97% in the survey do intend to vote, even if you have to hold your nose as you do so. So, who gets your backing?
“Frankly, I don’t trust any of them to do anything they are promising” – it is a cynical view from one of our readers, but this is far from a lone voice. A week before we hear the result of the general election, Building’s reader survey reveals widespread disaffection with UK politics in general and the current crop of leaders in particular.
When asked if you trust politicians more or less since the EU referendum, a whopping 80% of you gave the thumbs down. Many of you have been left unimpressed by the election campaign, which is variously described as a “farce” or a “joke”, while the promises made in the main party manifestos are often seen as “lies”.
No one knows how Brexit will play out and no one can predict if next week’s polling day will break the deadlock
Indeed, many of you seemed to struggle to pick any party to support, with one frustrated reader suggesting we should have added “none of the above” as an option in the survey. A plague on all your houses is probably a good summary of the majority view.
Still, 97% in the survey do intend to vote, even if you have to hold your nose as you do so. So, who gets your backing?
The Labour Party comes out on top with 31% of support – but with the Liberal Democrats just two percentage points behind and the Conservatives a close third on 26%. If the UK as a whole were to vote in this way, no party would have a majority and we would be staring down the barrel of yet more uncertainty – which is precisely the outcome many respondents say they fear most.
Voting intentions are one thing, but what this survey also captures is just how much people in construction really do want an end to all the disruption Brexit has caused – although, like the rest of the country, you are divided on how best to bring that about.
Brexit, rather than old party loyalties, is uppermost in people’s minds, which is perhaps reflected in the 38% of respondents who said they would be switching support in this election. The Lib Dems appear to be the main beneficiary, with 45% of swing voters backing the party that pledges to revoke article 50.
When it comes to what is best for construction, 43% of you back Labour. You seem persuaded by the party’s stance on housing, immigration and investment in northern England, but – and this is a crucial point for many of you – ambitious investment plans that stand to benefit construction are not necessarily enough to convince you to vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s party. For many, that is a step too far.
The Conservatives, in contrast, appear to be more trusted to fund big infrastructure projects, and to drive innovation through digital and offsite technology – the latter perhaps reflecting some of the work the government has done with the industry in recent years.
In a sharp reminder of what is at stake, this week we have seen the latest construction activity figures from IHS Markit/CIPS. Output fell again in November – the worst performer was civil engineering, followed by commercial work. The decline is slowing, thanks to housing output, but that’s little comfort when new work is sharply down for the eighth consecutive month.
The link between this poor performance and the spiralling political uncertainty is obvious – no one knows how Brexit will play out and no one can predict if next week’s polling day will break the deadlock. Until they know, more clients will hold off making big investment decisions on key projects and construction firms will suffer.
Our performance in infrastructure is a particular concern. The UK has dropped to ninth place in law firm CMS’ biennial infrastructure index, which ranks 50 countries in order of infrastructure investment attractiveness. Britain was fourth in 2017 and took the top spot in 2015.
The sense of slippage is unmistakable, but is the outlook for the country and the industry really so bad? Researcher Glenigan has made its forecast for the next two years, and it is surprisingly optimistic. It predicts – assuming a majority for Boris Johnson and a trade agreement with the EU within 12 months – that project starts next year will grow by 2% and a further 5% in 2021.
No doubt the Conservatives would point to such forecasts in support of their “Get Brexit done” argument. Then again, Glenigan notes that although a Labour government would lead to uncertainty in the short term, if a second referendum resulted in the UK remaining in the EU, there is likely to be a boost to economic growth. And doubtless Labour would seize on this to justify its fence-sitting on a people’s vote.
In the pages of this magazine the Conservative Robert Jenrick and Labour’s John Healey make their bids for your votes. This time next week we will know if any of their arguments have persuaded the country to back one party over the rest.
Chloë McCulloch, editor, Building