I started writing this blog back in 2005, largely because I thought the media’s treatment of opinion polls was so unremittingly awful. One problem was the media’s tendency to treat whatever poll they had commissioned themselves as it if were the gospel truth, while ignoring polls commissioned by other papers. In voting intention at least they have improved on this – I quite often see journalists putting reports of voting intention figures in the context of other polls that have shown similar or contrasting trends in support. However, the problem is still rife with other polling questions – newspapers will write a whole story based on a single question in a poll they have commissioned, ignoring the evidence from many other polls on the same subject.

There is a classic example in the Independent today and their treatment of last night’s ComRes poll. I don’t wish to criticise the Indy too much- they have not misrepresented the poll in anyway, it is reported in an entirely fair and accurate way. Nevertheless, but taking a single poll question in isolation it ends up creating a shallow and one-sided picture of public opinion.

ComRes’s poll yesterday 72% of people agreed with the statement “It is time for the Coalition to change its economic policy to be focused more on promoting growth and less on spending cuts”. Taken in isolation, that suggests overwhelming opposition to the government’s economic policy and support for Labour’s alternative.

However, we don’t have to take it in isolation, as we have lots of other evidence too. I’ve written in the past about the shortcomings of “do you agree or disagree with this statement” questions – they risk skewing answers in the direction of the statement. For example, in December ComRes asked whether people agreed with the statement that “The Government should not increase public borrowing any further and its top priority should be to pay off the nation’s deficit as soon as possible” and found 74% of people agreed. Taken in isolation that would have suggested overwhelming support for the government’s position… except that ComRes also asked if people agreed that “The Government should borrow more in the short term to increase economic growth as much as possible even if it means reducing the deficit more slowly” and found that 49% of people agreed. In other words, 23% of people agreed both that the government should not borrow any more, and also that they should borrow more. ComRes’s findings in that poll suggest that the picture is not as clear as the single question today would suggest.

Unsurprisingly given the importance of the question, other polls and companies have come at the same question from different angles. Populus this month read out two sentences summarising the government view and the Labour view on the economy and cuts (without identifying them as such), and asked people which they most agreed with. They got an almost even split, 48% in favour of the government’s stance, 49% in favour of Labour’s stance.

YouGov do a similar question as a semi-regular tracker, asking people to say if the government should stick to its present strategy of reducing the deficit, even if this means growth remains slow, or whether the government should change its strategy to concentrate on growth, even if that means the deficit stays longer or gets worse. The last time YouGov asked that, also this month, showed 33% supported the present strategy and 39% wanted to change (29% weren’t sure or didn’t want either), so slightly more support for Labour’s stance than the Conservative one.

If you take a broad overview of all the polling evidence you end up with quite a mixed picture – certainly opinion seems to be moving in the direction of more of an emphasis on growth and less on the deficit, but the public remain quite evenly split. Looking at other polls people are opposed to the cuts, and they want to see more emphasis on growth. But they also want to see the deficit reduced, and think the cuts are necessary in order to do that. Ask them if they want to have their cake they say yes, ask them if they’d like to eat it they also say yes. Taking just a single polling question doesn’t give this broad picture at all – and indeed, depending on what the question was could produce entirely contradictory pictures.

The question we should ask ourselves is this – when the media talk about opinion polls, should they actually be doing their best to explain and illustrate the public’s opinion on an issue, taking all the available evidence into account, even if it ends up being muddy, confused, unclear and possibly quite dull? Or should they be plucking out single findings and trying to weave them into a sensational story?

241 Responses to “Polling on economic policy”

1 2 3 5
  1. Concentrate on growth or concentrate on the deficit?


    No wonder the polling is confused. It seems obvious now that you can’t close the deficit without growth.

    Yet pollsters treat the two as mutually exclusive. All these polls do is highlight the – understandable – ignorance of respondents to the great interdependencies that exist in any economy.

    No doubt scoundrel newspaper editors delight in exploiting this ignorance to forward certain agendas.

  2. Last night’s YouGov had the question “which political party… would handle the problem best?”

    The economy in general: Con 26%, Lab 27%.

    Is there “a semi-regular tracker” on this as well?

  3. Billy Bob – there is a regular* tracker on that! It’s asked once a fortnight.

    (*YouGov has a series of questions it asks on a rota once a fortnight or once a week – those are the regular trackers. What I call a semi-regular tracker is a question that is repeated using the same wording, so its comparable and you can watch trends, but where there isn’t a regular timetable for it, it’s just asked as and when)

  4. That semi-regular tracker shows a decent lead for being more proactive on growth.

    Though it is only since mid April and the aftermath of the ‘double dip’ publication/ reportage = so it might be a soft lead…

    At least until the policies for being more proactive on growt are spelt out by the two Eds in far more detail than a 5 point slogan.

  5. Well confused or not I think coverage of a poll without context really doesn’t get you anything but a throw away headline.

    Of course a paper might be happy with a good headline if it sells papers and or if it promotes it ad its readers views or prejudices.

    One of my favourites which I think Anthony covered a while back is on more funding for the NHS.

    This regularly polls well with most people in favour but doesn’t always give the poll boost parties might expect despite how prominent polls show concerns about the NHS are.

    One reason for this is that when a follow up question is asked about whether people think more money will lead to real improvements or just be swallowed up “in the system” most people think it won’t have an impact.

    The key issue is that if you don’t ask the right question and particularly try to get at what people actually want or say think they want you can end up offering the wrong thing.

    A good example of this is localism. Most people are in favour of it, that important decisions about their local area should be made locally, not far away.

    You will always find a line of people prepared to tell you that;

    “That was a terrible decision they made at the centre, it should never have been taken their, if it had been mades locally we would have had a proper decision that people support which would have been more democratic”

    But have you ever heard anyone say;

    “That was a brilliant decision they made at the centre, but it should never have been taken their, if it had been made locally we could have had a terrible decision that people hated which would have been more democratic”

    its hard not to conclude that what people actually want isn’t localism, its decisions they like.

    They may believe localism will give them that, but that will only happen if people locally are willing to make the hard choices that for all their complaints about centralisation they tend not to want to have to make themselves.

    where the media tend to let themselves down is that they tend to simply report the findings rather than try to understand what lies behind them.

    Thats why articles like Peter Kelner’s are so needed as they look deeper at what the causes for peoples opinions rather than just what they say.

    I suppose it is the difference between knowing and understanding.

    Personally I know quite a lot, but I am not sure how much of it I understand.


  6. Peter –

    The localism contradiction actually shows up very well on the NHS as well. On anything, people quite like the idea of decisions being taken locally. Asked about the postcode lottery (obviously you don’t use the phrase), people hate the idea of people in different areas getting different services and provisions.

    People like the idea of localism, but often recoil from the consequences.

  7. If the budget qualifies as economic policy, it’s no wonder the public are confused.

    Pasties: U-Turn
    Caravans: U-Turn
    Charitable relief: U-Turn pending, apparently

    [Snip – AW]

  8. As always the saying “becareful what you ask for as you might get it” summs up the danger of taking single question answers to show the full picture.

  9. People in surveys like to say “yes” (acquiescence bias). There’s been an experiment on a longitudinal survey which said “last year you said your job was XXXX”. Half the sample had the suffix “is it still the same?” and the other half had “has that changed?”. In theory, the % who said “Yes” it was still the same should be equal to the % who said “No” it hadn’t changed. However, 95% said “Yes” the job was the same and only 77% said “No” to has it changed. You get the same if you ask about health or working hours.

  10. @ Anthony

    Whether you snip me or not, that’s exactly the way much of the media is reporting it. And, IMO, that ‘spin’ may have traction with the public regarding economic competency polling questions.

    Maybe you snipped because you don’t want a car crash debate about it. But I just want to ‘say’ that I don’t think there was anything partisan or inherently wrong with what I wrote.

  11. Anthony,

    Years back Highland council had a think called the “Equalisation Fund”.

    It was supposed to iron out inequities over time by allowing areas to bid for funds for things they lacked that other areas had.

    In reality what happened was that local areas (Highland remember is the size of wales) set their own priorities and then having increased spending on things they wanted, bid into the EF for money to enhance what they hadn’t priorities but other people had.

    If they funded X and not Y, but somewhere else funded Y not X they would ask for money for Y because somewhere else had more of it.

    People want their cake and to eat it.

    As you say if they don’t get what they want ,there is no democracy and if someone else gets more it’s a post code lottery.

    I may be getting more cynical and even a bad loser but as someone who never ducked a hard decision I just watched some that passed the buck at every opportunity get re elected while I didn’t.

    I find it hard not to concluded after years asa councillor that the main driver of centralisation is Cowardice.

    Given the choice between making an unpopular choice or passing it up the line most politicians pass it on so gradually over time more and more of the contentious decisions are made at the centre.

    Thats when the people who have dodged them get up in arms about centralisation and decisions that they don’t like.


  12. Ruffley [a Tory MP] conceded that while VAT on pasties and caravans involved “relatively small amounts of money”, rowing back on the cap would be “trickier” because it involved hundreds of millions of pounds. But he suggested Osborne should find the money to fund the U-turn.

    “It was only an idea that Nick Clegg came up with to hit tycoons, that’s how it was conceived, on the back of an envelope…”
    The media is headlining stories about the pending u-turn on charitable relief with the last 6 words of the above quote.

  13. @AW

    Couldn’t find the regular tracker which compares political parties on best for the economy in general, but what might be called the coalition’s economic approval rating has been in decline – “Do you think the coalition government is managing the economy well or badly?”

    From +22% to zero within four months of taking office. -7% at the end of 2010. -22% at the end of 2011. Currently -35%.

  14. The media ARE reporting it as U-Turn.

    I know I’m anti-Government, but if a policy is introduced that turns out to be wrong, isn’t a U-Turn better than doggedly persisting?

    A few more U-Turns, please, and based upon whether plan A is working rather than whether the press are ridiculing you.

  15. I’m not even sure the U-Turn is really a U-Turn. It seems to me that it’s more a definition of what constitutes “hot takeaway food” as the debate spiralled into silly unworkable definitions which was the real issue with the levelling of VAT rates across the industry.

    It does seem the media are very determined to shoe horn the story to fit the headline though.

    As for the public’s “we’d like the deficit to be closed without doing anything to close the deficit”. Highly predictable and inconsistent results.

    Peter Cairns

    That is the flaw of democracy. People don’t reward people for making good but painful decisions, they reward those who promise the most, who take the least amount of decisions.

  16. Have to say I’m reminded of the Private Eye “article” soon after the coalition took power, where the public announced they were in favour of cuts as long as it didn’t involve cutting anything…

  17. Found it.

    Best party on the ecomomy in general.

    Labour fairly static, starting the parliament at 26%, now at 27% The extremes are 22% in Jan 2012 and 30% in March 2011.

    Con in a steady decline from 37% to 26% over the parliament so far.

  18. As people may have gathered from the post above, I am not a particularly huge fan of political reporting in the media. What I grumble about in polling applies to everything else too – the media have little interest in explaining or educating, and a keen interest in painting everything as a reverse, an embarrassment, a scandal, etc, etc.

    If a government puts something out to consultation, and then changes it based on responses, it becomes a U-turn, if a minister speaks their mind it is a split, etc, etc

    Anyway here, as far as I can tell, is what happened with VAT on pasties.

    The basic rules are that when you buy food in a store it is VAT free (unless it is classed as a luxury), if you buy food in a restaurant you pay VAT. If you are supposed to eat the product on site you pay VAT.

    It becomes trickier when it comes to *takeaway* food though, as if a salad is VAT free in Sainsburys, it should be VAT free in a McDonalds too. It’s the same product, after all, and in both cases you are taking it off site and eating it later.

    Before the budget the difference was based on heating – cold takeaway food was VAT free, food that was heated up to prepare it to be eaten had VAT on it.

    This, however lead to a loophole, based upon the *purpose* of heating the food. Retailers claimed that things like pasties were not heated up to prepare them for eating they were heated up as part of the process of making them, or were being kept warm for health and safety reasons, and therefore they shouldn’t have to pay VAT.

    As a result, some hot takeaways like fish and chips had VAT on them, while some others, like pasties, did not.

    The government sought to close this loophole by changing the rules so they were no longer based on why the food had been heated up, but was just based on whether it was actually hot or not by the time it was served.

    This sounds fair at first glance, but as many people then pointed out, in practice this was rather absurd, as something could have VAT on it one minute, but if you left it five minutes to cool down it would cease to have VAT on it. In practice, the solution wasn’t workable.

    Hence, following the consultation the government changed the proposals. Now it only gets VAT on it if it is heated up for eating (as before), or if it is articifically kept hot (by putting it in a bag that retains heat, keeping it on a hot counter, etc). So for our pasties, if they just haven’t had chance to cool down yet they’d be treated as non-VATable cold products, but if the retailler keeps them warm on purpose they’ll be VATable.

    So, the government suggested a solution that was a bit daft to begin with, but the consultation has done its job and produced a better solution. The loophole is still closed, but with a different method that won’t catch people by accident.

    For our purposes on UKPollingReport though none of this is vaguely relevant – what matters is *perception*, and the perception would be either that the government have stopped doing something bad, or that they have made an embarrassing u-turn, or, that its a rather trival matter that doesn’t bother people much.

  19. ” …its a rather trival matter that doesn’t bother people much.”

    The point about the pasty tax is that it has a popular culture comedy factor… a trivial matter, but one where everyone is qualified to have a chuckle at the government’s expense.

  20. AW

    Very well summed up, both on how the media portrays politics and on the specific issue of VAT on heated food.

    I’d probably go as far to say that the majority of the public don’t want to be informed or educated and simply want to know if it’s “good or bad” without having to make that decision themselves.

    It seems the media have a limited headline vocabulary and so are being forced to try and fit the story into the headline word “U Turn”. How deep will the perception penetrate into the public? Hard to say, although the media will certainly have influence as very few people will really care about the intricacies of VAT regulation and will simply take the media’s word for it that it is a U turn.

    I suspect this is such a minor issue that opinion will be divided on party political grounds as noone really cares that much. Other taxes like the Poll Tax, or Gordon Brown’s Death Tax were so important that people would give more consideration to them, then decide they don’t like being taxed themselves!

  21. Okay, nothing to with polling but I just want to share… if you didn’t LOL :-) , you’d cry:

    Christine Lagarde, the IMF boss who caused international outrage after she suggested in an interview with the Guardian on Friday that beleaguered Greeks might do well to pay their taxes, pays no taxes, it has emerged.

    As an official of an international institution, her salary of $467,940 (£298,675) a year plus $83,760 additional allowance a year is not subject to any taxes.

  22. @AW

    So, the government suggested a solution that was a bit daft to begin with, but the consultation has done its job and produced a better solution. The loophole is still closed, but with a different method that won’t catch people by accident.


    So, in truth, we’d do better to have no government. But to put into practice only policies suggested by consultants.

    I agree. Down with tedious party politics and on with technocracy!

    Impartial government by The Impartial Party!

  23. It seems to me that the flaw in single issue reporting, such as the Independent one cited by AW, is that it encourages me-too-ism.

    It always strikes me that people don’t really want to think for themselves, as colleagues have noted above.

    But here lie the seeds of mass hysteria and lurches into extremism.

    It’s always comforting when one sees that the government is mainly criticised by its opponents and vice versa,as revealed by the party cross breaks.

  24. It seems to me that the flaw in single issue reporting, such as the Independent one cited by AW, is that it encourages me-too-ism.

    It always strikes me that people don’t really want to think for themselves, as colleagues have noted above.

    But here lie the seeds of mass hysteria and lurches into extremism.

    It’s comforting when one sees that the government is mainly criticised by its opponents and vice versa, as revealed by the party cross breaks.

  25. It said ‘you’ve already said that’ on wordpress but it did not realise it was my alter ego this time agreeing.

  26. The problem in the case of the pasty tax is that by campaigning against it (in some ways overtly – The Sun – and in some ways more subtly, by running negative headlines – most of the others) the print media set themselves up to WANT to claim some sort of victory.

    So, in this instance, AW’s point is amplified – while the media naturally want to scandalise everything, they had an added incentive to here in that ‘they were the change’, ‘they were right’ or in some sense ‘they got one over the government and are fighting for the little guy’.

    Which ultimately does a disservice to the ‘little guy’ because a) they all basically got wound up by very little, in the first place, when there were potentially more worrying things in the budget (dependent on individual circumstance!) and b) may now feel that they have in some way gained something when in fact they have gained nothing!

    So I suppose some people who are easily led may now sleep a little better at night and also believe the Sun to be a beacon of workers rights. Hmm.

  27. Yes-a very good analysis AW of the VAT regs as they apply to food, and the changes proposed.

    If the Press had come anywhere near this sort of report , the story might have been less painful for GO.

    But he should have had the implications vetted before going nap in the Budget.

    As you say Anthony , the Press wanted to deal in sound bytes-so we get “Pasty tax”-and “Pasty tax u-turn”

    The irony for me , having lived in Cornwall & married a native, is that whilst the VAT free cold pasty concession may suit the customers of Sainsburys or Greggs, in the place where Cornish Pasties really matter, it doesn’t help at all.

    Walk into any local high street baker in Cornwall ( & there are lots) , like Philp’s , Warren’s or Rowe’s , order a pasty, and you will be served a hot pasty from a heated cabinet.

    This is street food in Oggy Land. And even if you take it home, you want to buy it hot.

  28. Someone said to me a while back that being an avid news watcher and having followed everything fom the Arab Spring tp Occupy Wall Treet and from the tuition fees here to the riots in Greece everyone could just order the same four word poster to march with…


    Problem is that’s just about the one thing we can’t do.


  29. I question strongly, what people understand by the question

    “It is time for the Coalition to change its economic policy to be focused more on promoting growth and less on spending cuts”.

    You can break that down to:

    “Should the government increase growth and decrease spending cuts”

    Now I think the lay man in the street will probably struggle to grasp the full consequences of the question. The understanding of the “less politically minded” of us will read “growth” and think “hmmm that’s good” amd then read “less spending cuts” and think ” that’s good… good 2 bad nil!!” I’m in favour.

  30. I’m not sure that Antony is right about perception and facts being different in the pastie tax case. Remember that a lot of people own and/or work in fast food places and so need to know the actual details – and each of them will talk to a lot of people each day.

    In any case, the subject of VAT and takeaway food is one of those rare topics that combine pedantry and populism – and so an endless source of argument (usually Jaffa Cakes). I’m sure I can remember similar problems in the distant past when VAT was introduced and distinguishing between take-away food and food is a minefield and I think an attempt then to make hot=VAT failed.

    The change in rules was presumably an attempt to deal with the Deliverance case which was about sending fresh baked naans by motorbike[1], but I’m not sure that even the new decision will work. This is because of a ruling about a year ago from the ECJ in relation to the case of Manfred Bog and others about hot sausages[2]. There ‘minimal preparation of food’ was considered to not amount to supplying a service, specifically heating or keeping warm. HMRC seem the think that because they specifically define ‘catering services’ as including heating they’re OK, but I’d like to see them argue this in the ECJ.[3]

    [1] By law all VAT cases have to have ridiculous details.

    [2] See what I mean

    [3]If only to watch various UKIP types’ heads explode as they try to resolve the anti-EU = pro-more tax conundrum.

  31. Planky
    Indeed, and the only way to ask these questions and remove what the referendums always suffer from, and that is to also remove the word ‘government’ and ask the question when there isn’t an ongoing debate about the particular subject.

    So ‘Are you for or against capital punishment’ would be a good one when there hasn’t just been an outrage reported. That’s difficult because the news people need a murder every day if possible and as gruesome as possible..

  32. Amber

    When Mme Lagarde started shooting her mouth off, I did wonder if she paid tax because most of those jobs in international organisations are not taxable (sensibly enough because of jurisdiction problems). It does however rather put her in the “do as I say, not as I do” camp, which is arguably what the Greeks have also had to put up with from their political elite for decades.

    Actually my first thought was “What a pity that, during the time thse problems were building up, the leading European countries didn’t have finance ministers prepared to sort this out”. :P

    In any case, rather like Mr Cameron’s helpful intervention, I can’t see this doing much to help the pro-austerity Parties in the 17 June election. Though at least Cameron pays his taxes – unless he invoices through Premier Political Services (Cayman Islands) Ltd.

  33. Actually I don’t think you can point the finger at Lagarde.

    She is paying all the tax she is due to…Zero!
    If anyone in Greece is entitled to pay no tax then they shouldn’t pay any.
    Her point was there seem to be a lot of well off people in Grrece who’s tax returns look very much like works of fiction.

    You may feel that people like Lagarde should pay tax but you can’t accuse her of avoiding paying tax that is due.


  34. big tim

    So, in truth, we’d do better to have no government. But to put into practice only policies suggested by consultants.

    If you think policies suggested by consultants have much to do with the policies produced by public consultation you’re clearly from another planet. Or KPMG[1].

    The first tells you what you want to hear at enormous cost; the second what you don’t want to hear for free.

    [1] Which is domiciled for tax purposes on one of the smaller moons of Uranus.

  35. Peter Cairns,

    Absolutely agree with you. Perhaps the implication is that to have any credibility on the country of Greece she must volunteer to pay tax she doesn’t owe………and then she still might not be qualified to speak as she is not struggling to make repayments on several hundred billion euros of personal debt. So what does she know ?

    The truth is very often to painful to hear. But it doesn’t make it untrue……

  36. Good Evening All.

    Thank you Anthony for your work on this issue.

    I think all political parties and voters will just have to get used to the idea that ‘The party is over’ as Crosland told people in 1977.

    I think that we will never see ‘glad confident’ capitalism for some time, perhaps a decade.

  37. Gove before Leveson getting rave reviews in the Press.

    It was riveting stuff. The first time I have seen Jay outclassed, as Gove moved on to a direct exchange with Leveson.

    The two had a discussion of the highest intellectual quality about Press regulation, Freedom of the Press & Liberty.

  38. @Colin

    “Gove before Leveson getting rave reviews in the Press.”

    I didn’t see it, but from the real time commentary on the Guardian site there was a very clear difference in language from previous witnesses.

    Instead of obvious dissembling, using phrases such as “I do not recall” (meaning – “I choose not to recall”) and “I imagine that” (meaning – “I know full well that”), he was making much stronger declarative statements: “I cannot recall”, “There was no discussion”, “X or Y did not happen”.

    Either he’s a very confident perjurer, or he knows full well he’s in the clear on the BSkyB bid (and is looking forward to being in the running for DC’s post).

  39. Roger Mexico

    If you think policies suggested by consultants have much to do with the policies produced by public consultation you’re clearly from another planet. Or KPMG[1].


    Consulatations seemed grammatically incorrect. So I used the noun Consultant.

    Also seemingly incorrect is saying someone is from another planet. But I’ll let that pass. BYMBARW. ;-)

  40. Is this post going to be Anthony’s submission to Leveson?

  41. ROBIN

    I think the point is that he did not get bogged down in that sort of thing-didn’t allow it since he registered his admiration of Murdoch loud & clear.

    It was the pure politics free discussion with Leveson which transcended all else. It must have been just what Leveson was looking for & needed-though he became tetchy with Gove on occasion.

    It will have made him think , I feel sure. He is clearly of a mind to recommend Independent regulation of the Press, and seems particularly exercised about the point that Blair made ( along with various Hello client “celebrities” )-the lack of effective redress for erroneous reporting of personal matters.

    Gove cautioned that Freedom of the Press is worth nothing unless certain people get upset sometimes.

    It really was good stuff.


    @”Is this post going to be Anthony’s submission to Leveson?”

    What a great idea.

    Go for it Anthony-we’ll be cheering you on.

  43. Anthony:
    ‘YouGov do a similar question as a semi-regular tracker, asking people to say if the government should stick to its present strategy of reducing the deficit, even if this means growth remains slow, or whether the government should change its strategy to concentrate on growth, even if that means the deficit stays longer or gets worse. ‘

    The problem with that question is that it implies the present strategy reduces the deficit whereas the present strategy of deficit reduction was predicated upon levels of growth the government has not been able to obtain and thus the deficit grows in any event..

    That question therefore is no less free of assumptions than any other….

    Our perceptions are more like a mille-feuille – layered although each layer isn’t necessarily singularly defining….

    Opinion polls must necessarily simplify but as you often show in your analysis the results of any poll should not be interpreted as simply as the simple question that’s posed.

    Trends do inform and perceptions may be unfair but defining – but equally realities change perceptions and redefine the norms by which we govern ourselves and others govern us….events meet us on the tide and carry us to different conclusions. That’s politics!


    @”the present strategy of deficit reduction was predicated upon levels of growth the government has not been able to obtain and thus the deficit grows in any event..”

    Not as yet it doesn’t :-

    FY 09/10 £157 bn
    FY 10/11 £ 137 bn
    FY 11/12 £ 126 bn

  45. VAT….

    Many of the problems we have with VAT arise from the Zero Rating we negotiated upon entry into the Common Market in 1972.

    Historically Purchase Tax had not touched food for example and had been levied, at various rates, upon perceived luxuries.

    VAT was conceived the other way around as a tax that would encompass almost all Goods & Services. The Commission was empowered to Exempt certain supplies from VAT.

    Thus for example no VAT is payable upon a fee paid to any government be that a tax as in the form of Stamp Duty or a fee to register a patent or pay for a car license.

    In the UK the food exemption from the outset created a problem and the problem was made worse by UK government constantly tinkering at the edges – putting chocolate covered biscuits in etc. Equally, the UK also made things harder by wanting to keep to a single rate of VAT.

    The mess that is VAT often is a result of our failure to properly apply the principles of the Tax. Rather like our entry into the EU we wanted our to have our EU cake but didn’t want to put VAT on it…

  46. COLIN

    With respect the deficits were planned to fall over all the years of this Parliament after 2011 under both previous and this govt’s proposals.

    I refer you not to those figures but the figures anticipated in GO’s first budget which were consequential on the cuts to public spending – and of which about 35% are currently implemented.

    I think you’ll find we’re going to be £150bn adrift by 2015 from the position then set out & in addition deficits will now continue into the next Parliament – which wasn’t originally anticipated and may be worse still as a result of lower growth this year and next.

  47. John

    You said deficits were going up-they are not.
    They are coming down-thus far.

    Of course the 2010 Budget was for lower deficts/borrowing-but not by as much as you stated:-

    2010 Red Book forecast for FY 2014/15 :-
    Deficit £ 37 bn
    Cumulative Total Debt £ 1284bn

    2012 Red Book forecast for FY 2014/15 :-
    Deficit £ 75 bn
    Cumulative Total Debt £ 1365 bn

    By the way Labour’s last Budget was for cumulative DEbt of £1370 in FY 13/14 with a DEficit in that year of £97 bn……….predicated on growth of 3.5 % pa

  48. @Colin – “Gove before Leveson getting rave reviews in the Press.”

    Yes, the Telegraph comments that Gove was “at pains to show his knowledge as he gives Lord Justice Leveson a lesson in History and Latin” – though I do think that some of the asides between Jay and Leveson reveal that they saw flaws in his reasoning (which couldn’t be disguised with the display of eloquence).

    Jay: Your arguement almost proves itself by definition if you use terms like “going too far”.

    It doesn’t work quite as simply as that Mr Gove.

    Eventually I think Leveson tires of the self-regarding performance, “That wasn’t the question… never mind.”

    The full testimony can be seen here:



    I think Leveson did bristle at Gove’s suggestion that Freedom of the Press means some people will get upset sometimes.

    I get the distinct impression that Leveson has bought into the Blair ( on behalf of his wife) / “celebrity” moan , that legal redress is currently inadequate.

    If I follow him correctly he is mulling over penal or exemplary damages. Ally that to an independent regulator ( he seems to have signalled that one) , and you have a situation which flas up warning lights to thoughtful ex journalists like Gove .

    THat’s why he stood toe to toe with Leveson.

    Gove made a speech about this recently-so it was all set up for today’s joust.

  50. John Murphy,

    ‘Deficits’ were going to be carried into the next parliament whatever happened in this one. That was common to all plans, regardless of party. You need to differentiate plans to eliminate the ‘structural deficit’, ‘half the deficit’, etc, etc. They were all predicated on economic growth assumptions, none of which have been proved to be, or will prove to be, real. The growth forecasts have been missed now for five years, regardless of party. That was why the OBR was set up, but they’re simply no better. It’s an imprecise science……..and, as ever, one will never know what might have happened if an alternative policy had been followed….

1 2 3 5