In his Budget speech earlier this month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced Britain’s largest peacetime borrowing level in order to fund the Government’s coronavirus recovery plan. While there has been speculation that the Budget announcement has laid the groundwork for an early General Election, a different election is on the horizon: Londoners will head to the polls on 6 May to elect a Mayor and Assembly members. Recent research has shown that the capital’s labour market is the hardest hit in the country, and the Government’s latest proposals for economic recovery could sway voters.
In London, almost a third (31%) of Londoners think the Government is spending too much money, a quarter (26%) think the Government is spending the right amount of money, and a further fifth (19%) think the Government is spending too little. Prior to the Budget, 29% of Londoners thought the Government was spending the right amount and 26% thought the Government was spending too much, showing a marginal increase in concern about the amount the Government is spending.
2019 Conservative voters in London are divided on whether they think the Government is spending too much (35%) or spending the right amount (33%), with only 13% saying the Government is spending too little. 2019 Labour voters are split across the various options: the Government is spending too much (29%), too little (27%), or the right amount (23%).
One of the most controversial announcements in the Budget was the corporation tax rise from 19% to 25% in April 2023—the first corporation tax rise in 50 years. Documents from the Treasury and the Office for Budget Responsibility have highlighted concerns that companies could leave the UK as a result of the tax hike, which could significantly affect London’s economy.
Nevertheless, 45% of Londoners support the corporation tax rise, while 22% oppose.
Opposition to the corporation tax rise is low across political parties: 22% of 2019 Conservative voters and 23% of 2019 Labour voters oppose the announced tax rise.
Only a quarter (26%) of Londoners think Keir Starmer is right to oppose the rise in corporation tax, while 37% think he is not right and a further 37% say they don’t know.
Almost half of 2019 Conservative voters (47%) say that no, Keir Starmer is not right to oppose the corporation tax rise, while a quarter (25%) think he is right. A slight plurality of 2019 Labour voters (36%) do not think Keir Starmer is right to oppose the tax rise, while 30% think he is right and 34% say they don’t know.
The Chancellor also announced a £4.8bn ‘Levelling Up Fund’ to increase investment in infrastructure and cultural projects to improve regional equality. The ‘levelling up agenda’ was a key Conservative election promise in 2019 and a group of Conservative MPs had been applying pressure on the Prime Minister not to neglect the plan, for fear they could lose many of the Northern seats acquired in 2019. However, some have criticised the objective of ‘levelling up’ the United Kingdom as having an anti-London undertone.
The ‘Levelling Up Agenda’ appears highly likely to involve focus on regions beyond London and the South East. The Government recently announced plans to relocate branches of the civil service to Darlington and Wolverhampton and to open an Infrastructure Bank in Leeds. Half (49%) of Londoners do not think such proposals, aimed at ‘Levelling Up’ the regions, will benefit nor harm London. 29% think such schemes will actually benefit London while 22% think they will harm London.
Half of Londoners (49%) think the ‘Levelling Up’ objective is neither pro- nor anti-London. The other half is divided: a quarter (26%) think it is pro-London and a quarter (25%) think it is anti-London. As such, the view that ‘levelling up’ could imply ‘levelling down’ London does not seem to have taken hold in the UK Capital. In fact, ‘levelling up’ may have ‘pro-London’ undertones by implicitly setting London as the example for the rest of the United Kingdom.
2019 Labour voters are slightly more likely to see the objective as pro-London (31%) than 2019 Conservative voters (26%). Overall, a plurality of 2019 Conservative voters (48%) and 2019 Labour voters (44%) see ‘Levelling Up’ as neither pro- nor anti-London.
The Budget has sparked an ongoing battle between the Government and medical institutions following the announcement of a 1% pay rise for NHS staff. The Royal College of Nursing has described the pay rise as ‘pitiful’ and has suggested that nurses receive a 12.5% pay rise for their work during the pandemic. While ministers are maintaining that the 1% pay rise is appropriate in these times of economic downturn, 59% of Londoners think the pay increase is too little. 28% think it is about right, while only 13% think it is too much.
Both the majority of 2019 Conservative voters (53%) and the majority of 2019 Labour voters (60%) think the pay increase is too little, with a third of 2019 Conservative voters (34%) and a quarter of 2019 Labour voters (26%) thinking it is the right amount.
Ultimately, while there are concerns that the rise in corporation tax could lead to a long-term loss in business, the tax hike finds significant support in London across the major political parties. Furthermore, neither Conservative voters nor Labour voters think Keir Starmer is right to oppose the corporation tax rise. The Conservative Party’s Manifesto promise and subsequent Budget announcement of a ‘Levelling Up’ agenda does not concern Londoners; it is seen as neither a benefit or harm, nor anti-London or pro-London. This result suggests that while the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda was a flagship Conservative Party election pledge, it has quite not built up any resentment in the capital city. Yet, the 1% NHS pay rise has garnered significant opposition, with the majority of Londoners, regardless of who they voted for in 2019, considering the pay rise to be too little.