Policy Exchange’s David Skelton argues Labour and the Tories need to reconnect with the ordinary voter, and lays out policies which could make it happen.
The ‘strivers’ will be crucial to deciding the result of the next election. Both political parties still haven’t worked out how they should appeal to these aspirational voters, who will hold the key to election victory.
Wilson, Thatcher and Blair are the only three party leaders since 1951 to have won more than one general election. Each of them held a real appeal to aspirational working class and middle class voters. Whilst Margaret Thatcher gained 41 per cent of the votes of skilled manual workers, and Tony Blair an astonishing 50 per cent, neither party made a real breakthrough with the strivers last time round.
Labour tanked to their lowest ‘C2 vote’ since the war of only 29 per cent and Cameron’s Conservatives remained stranded in the thirties with C2 voters – unable to make the breakthrough that would have allowed the Tories to govern alone.
The challenge for Cameron and Miliband is to re-bottle the aspirational appeal for a new generation of voters, hit by economic insecurity and a rising cost of living.
Whilst Ed Miliband may have developed the enduring phrase of “the squeezed middle” neither he nor David Cameron have developed a compelling programme that appeals to the strivers. That must be their policy and political priority as they look towards 2015.
Simply mouthing platitudes about aspiration and “hard working people” isn’t going to be enough for politicians to reconnect with the “strivers”: When not accompanied by policies or actions, that would look unconvincing at best and downright cynical at worst.
Political leaders need to develop policies that illustrate they understand and share the concerns of hard-pressed ordinary voters. These are voters worried about job security and rising unemployment, hit by hikes in living standards and concerned about the standards of education and other public services. It is these voters that politicians need to speak to convincingly between now and 2015.
To many voters who represent the “squeezed middle”, some modern politicians seem out of touch with their concerns. And it is an issue that affects both parties. Whilst the Conservative front bench appears southern and gilded, being described in polls as a “party of the rich”, Labour has a problem of appearing out of touch and lacking economic credibility, being described in polls as a “party of trade unions and welfare claimants”.
Both parties need to break out of these narrow perceptions and put themselves in a position where they are seen as the party of ordinary, hard working voters.
How should they go about this?
Prioritising growth and job creation would be a good start. At a time of record youth unemployment and the highest rate of unemployment for 17 years, a coherent plan for jobs and growth is necessary. Politicians need to recognition that it is not a choice between deficit reduction and job creation. Rather, both are required.
Planning reform, welfare reform, infrastructure spending and reducing barriers to job creation will help create the conditions for private sector job creation.
Concerns about the cost of living are also having a real impact on the “squeezed middle”. Rising energy bills are really hurting ordinary voters – meaning that policy makers need to take steps to be greener, but also in a way that has less of an impact on hard working people.
Childcare costs are also a rising concern for hard-pressed families. Despite an alphabet soup of childcare tax credits and the like, many families are still unable to find affordable childcare that works for them. It’s time for politicians to rethink childcare – in a way that makes life easier for the strivers trying to bring up a family and earn a living in tough economic times.
Too many in the “squeezed middle” feel that politicians aren’t properly listening to them or sharing and addressing their concerns. If any party is to gain an overall majority at the next election, their leaders will have to do more to relate to and address the concerns of aspirational voters.
This means backing up rhetoric with action and delivering workable solutions to the issues being faced by ordinary working people.
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• In Daily Telegraph-ese, the “squeezed middle” means the very rich – Daniel Elton, July 28th 2011
• Miliband calls for social responsibility at the top and bottom – Shamik Das, June 13th 2011
• Miliband’s “squeezed middle” message gains ground – Dominic Browne, March 25th 2011
• The real “squeezed middle” – Nigel Stanley, September 27th 2010
• Campaign to ensure ordinary people have say in leaders’ debates – Hannah Lownsbrough, February 17th 2010