The mood on the doorsteps

The message on the doorsteps has been the same for the whole of the local election campaign so far. People feel robbed. They want some respite from high fuel tax, high Council tax, high income tax and high public sector fees and charges. They would like better value for all their money spent on public services. They want some break from the endless surveillance into their daily lives, and from the ceaseless demands on the law abiding to register, comply, declare and remember all the tricky rules. It’s as if the government has designed ever more difficult rules with the intention of ensnaring the law abiding into mistakes from sheer exhaustion. There will come a form you forget, an answer you get wrong because you did not check it, a rule whose significance you had missed.

The doorstep message is poor for politics and worse for Labour. Some will not vote because they do not believe any political party can get a grip on it. Others will vote, and want to send a message to the Labour government. Some will even vote on local issues! My canvassing has been in Wokingham, never a source of much support for Labour, but the anti government mood is stronger than I have known it for the last eleven years.

People would like some honesty in government, some statement of what government can do to make their lives better, and some recognition that there are and should be limits to government power and intervention. Family budgets are being squeezed badly, and there is that gnawing fear that the government, unable to control its own spending properly, will be back for yet more tax increases at exactly the point when families can’t afford the taxes they are already having to pay.

Most commentators reckon the government is too optimistic in its forecast for UK growth this year. Let’s pray the government is right, because every shortfall in growth will be a bigger black hole in government finances. There are then two choices – borrow more, which is deferred taxation, or raise taxes – immediate taxation. Most of us want neither of those.

I have had one surprise. In the March edition of my local newsletter – paid for by the taxpayer – I offered to cut it out to save some public money if that was what people wanted. So far more have written in favour of keeping it. It will be interesting to see what the final score is. I was concerned that people are paying for too many glossies through the tax bill, but some do seem to like some of those publications.

Click here to see John Redwood’s presentation on the main priorities for Conservative controlled Councils.

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16 Comments

  1. Denise
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Correct. We ARE sick of increasing taxes. What does the Conservative party plan to do about it? Its very difficult to tell the difference between Labour and the Conservatives as both parties appear interchangeable.

    The Uk Libertarian Party are quite specific in their manifesto in which they plan to abolish personal Income Tax.

  2. Ben Gardiner
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    John

    You might want to amend

    and from the ceaseless demands OF the law abiding to register, comply, declare and remember all the tricky rules

    to

    and from the ceaseless demands ON the law abiding to register, comply, declare and remember all the tricky rules

    Regards

    Ben Gardiner

  3. Provincial John
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Inspired by your piece on Dunning's motion: "That no local government empoyee should be paid more than the Prime Minister."

  4. Lee Hegarty
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I think the above article emphasizes the serious deficiencies within the strategies of the Conservative party. John Redwood's observations accurately epitomize the mood of the general electorate as well as anything I have read , but they also offer an insight into the misleading success of current Tory strategy. Labours ineptitude is reflected in their unpopularity but this alone is not enough. Under David Cameron excellent inroads have been made to 'soften' the party image . Against the media friendly Tony Blair this was essiential as a right wing party with traditional connotations was always going be unelectable. Gordon Brown presents a different challenge and the issues and concerns exposed in this article by John Redwood needs aggressive strong policies and statements of intent. David Camerons media savvy persona style will only succeed alongside traditional Tory substance. At the moment the balance is definitely wrong.

  5. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Why not axe complex tax credits that trap people in poverty & put the QUANGO state to the sword so that the basic pesonal allowance can be made muc bigger , child benefit can be made more generous and pensioners can get a 100% council tax cut on the first £1,000 p/a of their bill while being given a far bigger winter heating payment. Age related allowances could be axed and all taxpayers would just get the same ( and far bigger personal allowance). This would slash pensioner poverty & lift plenty of children out of poverty too as well as making government smaller and lowering taxes to the benefit of the bottom 20% ( according to income) who pay more tax than the top 20% and to middle class familes who pay 50% more tax than 11 years ago ( such families paid 36% of their incomes to the state in 1997 compared to 54% now). This policy would be popular with an electorate who now know that runaway public expenditure means higher taxes that many cannot afford. It will appeal to the right as it means less government as well as simpler & lower taxes and to the left & centre as it means less poverty. People would be helped at a time of economic distress as household budgets would get a boost. The proof is clear that poorer people are more likely to spend any extra cash and the middle classes are suffering – why not axe Labour waste with a view to securing higher social mobility and as a result less poverty? Sounds like a right-wing policy that will produce social justice to me!

  6. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Why not axe complex tax credits that trap people in poverty & put the QUANGO state to the sword so that the basic pesonal allowance can be made muc bigger , child benefit can be made more generous and pensioners can get a 100% council tax cut on the first £1,000 p/a of their bill while being given a far bigger winter heating payment. Age related allowances could be axed and all taxpayers would just get the same ( and far bigger personal allowance). This would slash pensioner poverty & lift plenty of children out of poverty too as well as making government smaller and lowering taxes to the benefit of the bottom 20% ( according to income) who pay more tax than the top 20% and to middle class familes who pay 50% more tax than 11 years ago ( such families paid 36% of their incomes to the state in 1997 compared to 54% now). This policy would be popular with an electorate who now know that runaway public expenditure means higher taxes that many cannot afford. It will appeal to the right as it means less government as well as simpler & lower taxes and to the left & centre as it means less poverty. People would be helped at a time of economic distress as household budgets would get a boost. The proof is clear that poorer people are more likely to spend any extra cash and the middle classes are suffering – why not axe Labour waste with a view to securing higher social mobility and as a result less poverty? Sounds like a right-wing policy that will produce social justice to me!

  7. Bazman
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    The Uk Libertarian Party are quite specific in their manifesto in which they plan to abolish personal Income Tax.
    To be replaced by VAT. I presume? Outraged by the cost of Private Helicopters and caviar will be next? Idiots.

  8. Mike Stallard
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    Allow me to mention the elephant in the room. But first, let me compliment you on your real attempts to meet your constituents and find out what they are really thinking.
    The elephant in the room is the fact that the BNP and other parties are offering in clear, simple language, to clear up the mess which the EU and NuLab have created. It was not like this under Ken Clarke and John Major. (OK I know Ken Clarke is pro EU).
    Down here at grass roots, the mood is moving very fast to the right and a lot of people are well past the chummy Conservatism of David Cameron.
    You do know that the BNP is the most visited website.
    Me, I am still a conservative because I know my history and I also know that the faces on the BNP website probably cannot deliver what they promise.
    But their promises are much closer to what I believe than the Conservatives are.
    But – hey – who mentions the elephant!

  9. Tim Bull
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    John: I haven't seen your local newsletter, but if it conains a significant proportion of your own writing, then I am not surprised at the positive response – you provide as clear a commentary of rational, 'citizen opinion' as I read anywhere.

    I just hope that you are also having substantial influence on Tory Party policy – it is not yet possible to ascertain. As others have commented, Tory policy is not yet clearly defined, to the same degree as that of the minor parties.

    I am a floating voter, with a natural tendency towards 'right of centre' and I am, in all sincerity, desperate to hear the policies that will enable me to declare for the Tory party.

    The headlines I want to hear are "Smaller government, lower taxes" – hope you can help !

  10. Dr Dan H.
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    The main problem here is that the Labour Party has, over the last decade, done their very best to give away all the power that matters to the European Union, whilst retaining only the power to tax, interfere and generally make peoples' lives a misery.

    In doing so they have consistently lied, cheated and wasted the UK's resources whilst comprehensively ignoring the needs and wishes of the electorate. They have consistently acted to increase the size of the welfare state and the number and scope of the QUANGOs, and have never acted to reduce the tax burden on the electorate.

    In short, all we ever got off Labour is being robbed, bullied, ignored and generally abused with next to nothing in return.

    A useful cure would be to impose a flat tax and greatly enlarged tax-free allowance (which lets you get rid of tax credits), cut taxation on fuels which is crippling our industry and alter this tax to be a "stability tax" which aims to keep prices of fuels constant, not to fleece the electorate unmercifully.

    Teenage pregnancies and the ever-growing hordes of welfare (dependents -ed) can be greatly mitigated by simply removing child benefits, and dictating that up to the age of 18 a person is a child, and the responsibility of their parents (as the Dutch do). As a child is their parents responsibility, and kids the child has are also the parents' responsibility; so no extra benefits for teenage mothers and no free extra housing.

    This attitude works as the most wonderful contraceptive in Holland; teenagers don't have kids since there is no benefit to them in doing so, and a lot of downsides.

    To go further, pay adult child benefits for only the first two children (spin this as replacement rate of population only; it isn't but nobody'll suss), and pay nothing for any further children. This removes the incentive to (have more children – ed) on benefit, which ought to improve the lot of the kids that are born; it also plays very well to the Daily Mail-reading electorate. It won't please the benefit-scroungers, but they don't vote much anyway so can be discounted.

    Finally, introduce a market-like voucher system into healthcare, and permit people to top it up with their own money, and permit hospitals to set their own prices under this system; also permit doctors to charge for appointments. This ought to shake up the NHS fairly quickly, and although it won't be the idealised Everybody Is Equal system the NHS was intended to be, it will work.

  11. backofanenvelope
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr Redwood

    I read your blog because it seems to be sane!

    My question to you is – what is the Tory policy on Council Tax?

    Every year it rises by about 5%. I can afford mine, but there must be many people struggling to pay theirs. The Tory policy seems to be that this will continue into the distant future.

    Why not announce that the next Tory government will freeze council tax levels on taking office, then institute a regime of inflation minus 1%.

    Rgds

    Reply: There is no announced national policy on CT. I hope each local Conservative group pledge to keep it down – or even better, to reduce it, as Hammersmith and Fulham have been doing.

  12. tim holden
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    The way the strong anti-government sentiment will manifest is unpredictable. Labour is already hoping to declare a loss of less than 200 council seats as some sort of victory. Greens and BNP hope to gain from a fragmenting loss of Parliamentary credibility. The probable sharp economic downturn is highly destabilising to a situation already unbalanced.

    Slow and inexorable decline has not been experienced for a long time – if this developes, not only will the vacuous statements of PM and Chancellor be punished but the character of the political landscape will alter fundamentally.

    Post mortem of the May elections are likely to reach conclusions not yet anticipated. The switch of Labour votes to the far right is one of the easiest of these to predict. A Muslim vote will either abstain or polarise. And do not forget that the apathy shown in recent elections, where low turnouts have become the norm, will again be measured. If the current level of anger does not translate into electoral participation, there is much to be worried about.

  13. Donitz
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Mike S observations and comment on the BNP are excellent.

    It really is time for the only relevant non socialist political party of this country to understand the enormity of the right wing back lash that is simmering away.

    Tax, Public Spending and Immigration – no more pussy footing around. We need a clear stated policy to clean up this socialist mess we find our selves in.

    I have laughed in the past at the thought of the BNP as a viable alternative but in the words of "The Smiths", I know Cameron is a fan, "that joke isn't funny anymore its too close to home and it's too near the bone".

  14. backofanenvelope
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Reply: There is no announced national policy on CT.

    Perhaps there ought to be one. I would say that Council Tax is right at the top of most people's list of things they don't like.

  15. Cliff
    Posted April 15, 2008 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I too feel that with the lack of direction shown by our leader (sic) may well lead to a swing towards the parties on the fringe.
    As previously stated, I am a Wokingham resident and yesterday I received some local election material from UKIP. The policies contained therein, in my opinion, were far more Conservative by nature than those few that we have heard from Mr Cameron.
    I get the impression John, that you are a bit like a race horse that is being heavily restrained by it's jockey, it seems that you are very guarded in many of your postings and often post no reply on any post that criticises the direction of our party or our leader.
    I can understand that as a party we must show a united front but, at some stage we must say enough is enough and return to a Conservative agenda.

    The main problem as I see it is that both of the main parties adopt the same research as to what they believe the public want. This type of research may well be loaded to get a particular answer. For example,
    Question, "What is most important to your family, schools or the NHS?"
    People would say one or the other, this may well lead to a party saying one or the other is our priority.
    A better question may well be, "Having seen tax rise by such a great amount and the amount of money spent on the NHS and schools, do you feel you have seen improvements in the NHS/Schools services in proportion to the money spent?
    Would you like to see more money thrown at these services or would you like to see some of the bureaucracy cut and those savings put into front line services.
    I suspect most people would favour the latter and thus appeal to the natural Conservative nature of British people.

    If our front bench would say we can cut the tax burden by ensuring value for money and cutting quangos, just as Mrs Thatcher did incidentally, I feel the public would see sense and vote in a Conservative government. We do not seem to promote ourselves very well at the moment.

    When there is so little difference between the two main parties, there is a danger of people not bothering to vote or worse, adopting the view of "Better the devil you know" and thus returning another term of Labour by default.
    I am of the opinion that, no real choice between the parties means no real democracy.

    I think that there is a real danger of our party's vote being partially split between the BNP and UKIP if we don't return to our core beliefs and values. The BNP in particular have made themselves look a much more reasonable and electable party, they seem to have shaken off the skinhead thug image and have made many of their policies more mainstream. Despite the fact that they have been almost excluded from the media, their support is growing, as a party we should be concerned, as they seem to me to be poaching our traditional supporters.
    I have read some of the BNP's policy materials and to be honest, I thought I was reading a Conservative manifesto from a few years ago. If we as a party do nothing soon, UKIP and the BNP will take much of our core vote and as a result, ensure a further term of Labour and that will do no one any good will it?

    Reply: I did set out an agenda for the Conservatives in my Economic Policy Review, which included lower taxes and a more efficient public sector. Public criticism of the leadership will not change their agenda – private persuasion may. Public criticism just helps the Conservative's enemies.

  16. APL
    Posted April 22, 2008 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    JR: "Public criticism of the leadership will not change their agenda – private persuasion may. "

    Really! Public criticism is bad, in a democracy? Some of the things you are saying lately are extraordinary. Who among those of us, and I include myself, who would *like* to vote conservative actually gets the opportunity to have a private conversation with Cameron? And is it realistic to think that the two or three minutes afforded would be sufficient to discuss any subject in any worthwhile depth?

    JR: "Public criticism just helps the Conservative’s enemies."

    There is a time to be bold, the enemies of conservatives are in disarray, a strong leadership should be catching the tide of events.

    Reply: I was tallking about myself, not you – I have no intention of making a public criticism of the leadership, especially just before important elections. I get all too many phone calls from the BBC inviting me on to programmes to do so!

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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