Conservatives Seek to Reclaim ‘Low Tax’ Mantle Amid Bleak Outlook

November 22, 2023
R&WS Research Team
Conservative Party | Cost of Living | Economic Policy | GB Politics | Jeremy Hunt | Rishi Sunak | Tax | The Economy | UK Government | UK Politics

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Later today, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt will deliver his Autumn Statement.

The run-up to his speech has been dominated by calls from many Conservative MPs for tax cuts, with the Prime Minister himself teasing the possibility of reducing individual and business rates in a speech earlier this week.

At a time when the tax burden in the United Kingdom is at its highest level since the Second World War, and with the Conservative Party having lost its traditional mantle as the party of low taxes, many in the Conservative Party believe reducing the tax burden from its current level is an absolute necessity before the next General Election, due next year.

Ahead of the Budget, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies, in partnership with The Daily Mail, last week asked voters for their thoughts on taxation in Britain.

In an extraordinary reversal of the historic perceptions of the two major parties on tax, 32% of Britons today most associate lower taxes with the Labour Party, against only 23% who most associate the policy position with the Conservative Party. Another 26% most associate that characteristic with neither party.

In fact, as it stands today, more Britons associate the Conservatives with raising taxes than with lowering taxes. 35% of voters today most associate the Conservative Party with raising taxes, against 24% who most associate the party with lowering taxes.

Among those who voted for the party in 2019, 30% most associate the party with raising taxes, against 27% who most associate the party with lowering taxes. 

The context for today’s Budget could therefore not be bleaker for a Conservative Party now at its joint-lowest vote share in voting intention polling since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister.

In addition, today’s statement comes at a difficult moment for Jeremy Hunt personally, who survived (anonymous) calls from some Conservative MPs for him to be sacked in Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle last week.

While Hunt’s national approval rating improved by five points to -8% this week (possibly due to voters anticipating tax cuts in this week’s statement), his performance as Chancellor has consistently received a poor rating from voters.

Specifically, plualities believe Hunt has done a bad job of ‘ensuring taxes are reasonable’ (37%), ‘ensuring the Government spends its money well’ (36%), ‘supporting those struggling economically’ (35%), ‘avoiding Government waste’ (35%), ‘balancing the Government’s budget’ (33%), and ‘maximising the opportunities presented by Brexit’ (33%).

Meanwhile, voters are clear in their preference. 51% of voters believe the Government should lower taxes, against 28% who say they should maintain tax rates at their current level. Only 10% believe the Government should raise taxes.

In addition, as many as 62% of voters would support the Government cutting taxes, against only 7% who would oppose the Government doing so.

Crucially, 45% of voters believe cutting taxes will make the cost-of-living crisis better, while 23% believe the policy action will make the crisis neither better nor worse. Only 17% believe cutting taxes will make the crisis worse—a challenge for a Government that has insisted that reducing taxes would make inflation worse.

As regards individual taxes themselves, 41% believe income tax is among the three most unfairly applied taxes, while 36% say the same about inheritance tax. Other common selections include national insurance (28%), Value-Added Tax (VAT) (27%), and fuel duty (26%).

And yet, despite generally supporting tax cuts, voters are split on whether the public finances are in a position to sustain tax cuts. Indeed, only a narrow plurality (40%) believe the Government is in a position to cut taxes, while as many as 35% believe it is not.

Intriguingly, scepticism is even higher among 2019 Conservative voters—the core constituency the Conservative Party is desperate to reconnect with—a plurality of whom believe the Government is not in a position to cut taxes (41%).

Amidst this bleak political and economic outlook, then, Jeremy Hunt has a fine needle to thread with his Budget today.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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