Austerity, Politics, and Partisanship in the UK

  • Luke Temple
  • Maria T. Grasso
Part of the Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology book series (PSEPS)


New survey data allows us to unpack how perceptions of economic crisis, class, and objective economic deprivation vary across the UK’s political spectrum. The UK was hit by a weaker recession than Spain or Greece, but its close connection to the financial markets and unprecedented interventions by the government in the economy meant economic management was crucial. In this context, the 2015 general election occurred in the midst of austerity and the ‘weakest economic recovery in recent history’, and yet the party that presided over the implementation of austerity was voted back in with a majority. This analysis helps us disentangle the influences of hard times on voter perceptions: results suggest that one of the most important factors in the UK context was left-right ideology.


  1. Abramson, P. R., et al. (2013). The British General Election of 2010 Under Different Voting Rules. Electoral Studies, 32(1), 134–139. Elsevier.
  2. Achen, C. H., & Bartels, L. M. (2006, August 30–September 3). It Feels Like We’re Thinking: The Rationalizing Voter and Electoral Democracy. Prepared for Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia.
  3. Annesley, C., & Gains, F. (2014). Can Cameron Capture Women’s Votes? The Gendered Impediments to a Conservative Majority in 2015. Parliamentary Affairs, 67(4), 767–782.Google Scholar
  4. Armitstead, L. (2014, June 6). IMF Accepts It Was Wrong on George Osborne’s Austerity. The Telegraph. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  5. Ball, W. (2014). Providing Multi-Agency Children’s Services in an Austere Climate: Professional Narratives on Parenting Support in Wales. Families, Relationships and Societies, 3(3), 321–337. Scholar
  6. BBC. (2016, February 23). UK Loses Top AAA Credit Rating for First Time Since 1978. BBC Business. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  7. Beatty, C., & Fothergill, S. (2015). Disability Benefits in an Age of Austerity. Social Policy and Administration, 49(2), 161–181. Scholar
  8. Broughton, N. (2015, July 9). Budget 2015: George Osborne Misses His Targets Again. The New Statesman. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  9. Butler, D., & Stokes, D. (1969). Political Change in Britain: Forces Shaping Electoral Change. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  10. Cabinet Office. (2010). The Coalition: Our Programme for Government. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  11. Campbell, A., et al. (1960). The American Voter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  12. Clarke, H., Sanders, D., Stewart, M., & Whiteley, P. (2004). Political Choice in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clarke, H. D., et al. (2009). Performance Politics and the British Voter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clegg, D. (2010). Labour Market Policy in the Crisis: The UK in Comparative Perspective. Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, 18(1), 5–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Communities and Local Government Committee. (2016). Homelessness: Third Report of Session 2016–17 House of Commons. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  16. Conservative Home. (2008). Labour Has Maxed Out Britain’s Credit Card, Says Cameron. Conservative Home Blog. Nov 9. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  17. Conservative Home. (2015). George Osborne Conservative Conference Speech in Full. Available at Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  18. Cowburn, A. (2016, July 4). Nigel Farage Resigns: Douglas Carswell Brands Ukip Leader ‘Electorally Disastrous’ After Resignation. The Independent. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  19. Cribb, J., Hood, A., & Joyce, R. (2015). Living Standards: Recent Trends and Future Challenges. London. Available at:
  20. Curtice, J. (2013). Never to Be Forgotten? The 2013 English Local Elections. Juncture, 20(1), 62–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Curtice, J. (2015). Ashcroft Shows Those ‘Safe’ Labour Seats Really Are at Risk. What Scotland Thinks Blog 4 Feb. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  22. Cutler, F. (2004). Government Responsibility and Electoral Accountability in Federations. Publius, 34(2), 19–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dalton, R. J. (1984). Cognitive Mobilization and Partisan Dealignment in Advanced Industrial Democracies. Journal of Politics, 46(1), 264–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Davies, B. W., et al. (2015). Financial Melancholia: Mental Health and Indebtedness. Available at:
  25. Dowler, E., & Lambie-Mumford, H. (2015). How Can Households Eat in Austerity? Challenges for Social Policy in the UK. Social Policy and Society, 14(3), 417–428. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Downs, A. (1957). An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper.Google Scholar
  27. Elliott, L. (2013, April 18). George Osborne Told by IMF Chief: Rethink Your Austerity Plan. The Guardian. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  28. Enelow, J. M., & Hinich, M. J. (1982). Ideology, Issues, and the Spatial Theory of Elections. The American Political Science Review, 76(3), 493–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Enelow, J. M., & Hinich, M. J. (1984). The Spatial Theory of Voting: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  30. English, P., Grasso, M. T., Buraczynska, B., Karampampas, S., & Temple, L. (2016). Convergence on Crisis? Comparing Labour and Conservative Party Framing of the Economic Crisis in Britain, 2008–2014. Politics & Policy, 44(3), 577–603.Google Scholar
  31. Evans, G. (2000). The Continued Significance of Class Voting. Annual Review of Political Science, 3(1), 401–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Fieldhouse, E. (1995). Thatcherism and the Changing Geography of Political Attitudes, 1964–1987. Political Geography, 14(1), 3–30. Scholar
  33. Ford, R., & Goodwin, M. (2014). Revolt on the Right—Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. Giugni, M., & Grasso, M. T. (2017a). Citizens and the Crisis: Perceptions, Experiences, and Responses to the Great Recession in Nine Democracies. In M. Giugni & M. T. Grasso (Eds.), Citizens and the Crisis: Perceptions, Experiences, and Responses to the Great Recession in Europe. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  35. Giugni, M., & Grasso, M. T. (2017b). Citizens and the Crisis: The Great Recession as Constraint and Opportunity. In M. Giugni & M. T. Grasso (Eds.), Citizens and the Crisis: Perceptions, Experiences, and Responses to the Great Recession in Europe. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  36. Giugni, M. G., & Grasso, M. T. (Eds.). (2015a). Austerity and Protest: Popular Contention in Times of Economic Crisis. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Giugni, M. G., & Grasso, M. T. (2015b). Environmental Movements in Advanced Industrial Democracies: Heterogeneity, Transformation, and Institutionalization. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 40, 337–361.Google Scholar
  38. Grasso, M. T., Farrall, S., Gray, E., Hay, C., & Jennings, W. (2017). Thatcher’s Children, Blair’s Babies, Political Socialisation and Trickle-Down Value-Change: An Age, Period and Cohort Analysis. British Journal of Political Science.
  39. Grasso, M. T., & Giugni, M. (2013, September 12–14). Anti-austerity Movements: Old Wine in New Vessels? In XXVII Meeting of the Italian Political Science Association (SISP), University of Florence, Florence.Google Scholar
  40. Grasso, M. T., & Giugni, M. (2016). Protest Participation and Economic Crisis: The Conditioning Role of Political Opportunities. European Journal of Political Research, 55(4), 663–680.Google Scholar
  41. Green, J. (2007). When Voters and Parties Agree: Valence Issues and Party Competition. Political Studies, 55(3), 629–655. Scholar
  42. Green, J., & Hobolt, S. B. (2008). Owning the Issue Agenda: Party Strategies and Vote Choices in British Elections. Electoral Studies, 27(3), 460–476. Scholar
  43. Green, J., & Prosser, C. (2015, September 17). Learning the Right Lessons from Labour’s 2015 Defeat IPPR Blog. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  44. Grice, A. (2016, August 17). Government Austerity to Blame for 30% Rise in Homelessness, Says Parliamentary Committee. The Independent. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  45. Hayton, R. (2013). Cameronite Conservatism and the Politics of Marriage Under the UK Coalition Government. Open Space, 4(May), 151–156.Google Scholar
  46. Henderson, R. C., et al. (2014). Viewpoint Survey of Mental Health Service Users’ Experiences of Discrimination in England 2008–2012. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 49(10), 1599–1608. Scholar
  47. Hinich, M. J., & Pollard, W. (1981). A New Approach to the Spatial Theory of Electoral Competition. American Journal of Political Science, 25(2), 323–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Hodkinson, S., & Robbins, G. (2013). The Return of Class War Conservatism? Housing under the UK Coalition Government. Critical Social Policy, 33(1), 57–77. Scholar
  49. Holmes, E. (2013). Fixing the Roof While the Sun is Shining—Osborne’s New Spending Rule’ Policy Exchange Blog. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  50. Hood, A., & Phillips, D. (2015). Benefit Spending and Reforms: The Coalition Government’s Record Institute for Fiscal Studies Briefing Note BN160. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  51. Inglehart, R. (1984). The Changing Structure of Political Cleavages in Western Society. In R. Dalton, S. Flanagan, & P. A. Beck (Eds.), Electoral Changes in Advanced Industrial Democracies. Realignment or Dealignment? (pp. 25–69). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Kirkup, J. (2010, October 21). Spending Review 2010: There’s No ‘Plan B’, Says George Osborne. The Telegraph. Available at: B-says-George-Osborne.html. Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  53. Lambie-Mumford, H., & Green, M. A. (2015). Austerity, Welfare Reform and the Rising Use of Food Banks by Children in England and Wales. Area, 1–7. Online Fir.
  54. Livewhat. (2014). Integrated Report on Policy Responses to Crises. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  55. Lupton, R., Burchardt, T., Hills, J., Stewart, K., & Vizard, P. (2016). Social Policy in a Cold Climate: Policies and Their Consequences Since the Crisis. Bristol: Policy Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Marsh, M., & Tilley, J. (2010). The Attribution of Credit and Blame to Governments and Its Impact on Vote Choice. British Journal of Political Science, 40, 115–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Milbourne, L., & Cushman, M. (2015). Complying, Transforming or Resisting in the New Austerity? Realigning Social Welfare and Independent Action among English Voluntary Organisations. Journal of Social Policy, 44(3), 463–485. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. National Audit Office. (2014). The Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General to the House of Commons HM Treasury Annual Report and Accounts 20132014. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  59. OBR. (2015). Economic and Fiscal Outlook—March 2015 Office for Budget Responsibility. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  60. OECD. (2012). Social Spending During the Crisis: Social Expenditure (SOCX) Data Update 2012. Available at Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  61. Oesch, D. (2008). The Changing Shape of Class Voting. European Societies, 10(3), 329–355. Scholar
  62. ONS. (2015). Contracts with No Guaranteed Hours: 2015. Available at Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  63. Peers, S. (2016). Migration, Internal Security and the UK’s EU Membership. The Political Quarterly, 87(2), 247–253. Scholar
  64. People’s Assembly. (2015, March 23). Budget 2015: Austerity Policies a Disaster for the Majority. People’s Assembly Blog. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  65. Perraudin, F. (2014, December 16). SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens Plan to Join Forces Against Austerity. The Guardian. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  66. Portes, J. (2016). Immigration, Free Movement and the Eu Referendum. National Institute Economic Review, 236, 14–22. Scholar
  67. Quinn, T. (2016). Throwing the Rascals Out? Problems of Accountability in Two-Party Systems. European Journal of Political Research, 55(1), 120–137. Scholar
  68. Savage, M. (2015). Social Class in the 21st century. London: Pelican.Google Scholar
  69. Sawyer, M. (2012). The Tragedy of UK Fiscal Policy in the Aftermath of the Financial Crisis. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 36(1), 205–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sculthorpe, T. (2016, April 21). George Osborne MISSED His Borrowing Target for the Last Year by £1.8 Billion in a Fresh Blow to His Budget Plans. The Daily Mail. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  71. Shaw, K. (2015, November 27). Breaching the Welfare Cap is Actually Good News for the CONSERVATIVES. LSE British Politics and Policy Blog. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  72. Stanley, L. (2014). We’re Reaping What We Sowed: Everyday Crisis Narratives and Acquiescence to the Age of Austerity. New Political Economy, 19(6), 895–917. Taylor & Francis.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Stanley, L. (2016). Legitimacy Gaps, Taxpayer Conflict, and the Politics of Austerity in the UK. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 18(2), 389–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Steven, M., Llyr ap Gareth, O., & Baston, L. (2012). The Conservative Party and Devolved National Identities: Scotland and Wales Compared. National Identities, 14(1), 71–81. Scholar
  75. Stronach, I., Clarke, J., & Frankham, J. (2014). Economic “Revelations” and the Metaphors of the Meltdown: An Educational Deconstruction. British Educational Research Journal, 40(2), 319–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Taylor-Gooby, P. (2013). Why Do People Stigmatise the Poor at a Time of Rapidly Increasing Inequality, and What Can Be Done About It? The Political Quarterly, 84(1), 31–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Temple, L., Grasso, M.T., Buraczynska, B., Karampampas, S., & English, P. (2016). Neoliberal Narrative in Times of Economic Crisis: A Political Claims Analysis of the U.K. Press, 2007–2014. Politics and Policy, 44(3), 553–576.Google Scholar
  78. The Guardian. (2009). David Cameron Conservative Conference Speech in Full. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  79. The Telegraph. (2011). George Osborne Conservative Conference Speech in Full. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  80. Thielemann, E., & Schade, D. (2016). Buying into Myths: Free Movement of People and Immigration. The Political Quarterly, 87(2), 139–147. Scholar
  81. Tilley, J., & Hobolt, S. B. (2011). Is the Government to Blame? An Experimental Test of How Partisanship Shapes Perceptions of Performance and Responsibility. The Journal of Politics, 73(2), 316–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. TUC. (2016). UK Workers Experienced Sharpest Wage Fall of Any Leading Economy, TUC Analysis Finds. TUC Press Release. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  83. Vis, B., van Kersbergen, K., & Hylands, T. (2011). To What Extent Did the Financial Crisis Intensify the Pressure to Reform the Welfare State? Social Policy & Administration, 45(4), 338–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. de Vreese, C. H., & Boomgaarden, H. G. (2005). Projecting EU Referendums: Fear of Immigration and Support for European Integration. European Union Politics, 6(1), 59–82. Scholar
  85. Weeks, J. (2015, March 12). May 2015: The Austerity Election. Talking Humanities Blog. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  86. Whiteley, P., et al. (2013). Affluence, Austerity and Electoral Change in Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Wintour, P. (2012, December 3). George Osborne Prepares for Climbdown on Missed Fiscal Targets. The Guardian. Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
  88. Wren-Lewis, S. (2015). The Academic Consensus on the Impact of Austerity, Mainly Macro Blog. Available at: Accessed 21 Sept 2016.
  89. Yates, J. (2012). What Prospects Youth Justice? Children in Trouble in the Age of Austerity. Social Policy and Administration, 46(4), 432–447. Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luke Temple
    • 1
  • Maria T. Grasso
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PoliticsUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

Personalised recommendations