Labour and the Conservatives need to reach out to the ordinary voter

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.

David Skelton is the deputy director of Policy Exchange

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.

See also:

In Daily Telegraph-ese, the “squeezed middle” means the very richDaniel Elton, July 28th 2011

Miliband calls for social responsibility at the top and bottomShamik Das, June 13th 2011

Miliband’s “squeezed middle” message gains groundDominic Browne, March 25th 2011

The real “squeezed middle”Nigel Stanley, September 27th 2010

Campaign to ensure ordinary people have say in leaders’ debatesHannah Lownsbrough, February 17th 2010

21 Responses to “Labour and the Conservatives need to reach out to the ordinary voter”

  1. Political Planet

    Labour and the Conservatives need to reach out to the ordinary voter: Policy Exchange’s David Skelton argues Lab… http://t.co/aIdgOODB

  2. John Fletcher

    .@DJSkelton of @Policy_Exchange explains how Labour and the Tories can reconnect with the ordinary voter: http://t.co/784Xc8AM

  3. DrKMJ

    .@DJSkelton of @Policy_Exchange explains how Labour and the Tories can reconnect with the ordinary voter: http://t.co/784Xc8AM

  4. David Skelton

    .@DJSkelton of @Policy_Exchange explains how Labour and the Tories can reconnect with the ordinary voter: http://t.co/784Xc8AM

  5. Rob the crip

    So people who had legs blown off, or had an accident at work, those on JSA because the lack of jobs had better look for another party as Labour goes hunting for what is mostly a Tory voter, and New Labour voter meaning New labour must be reborn.

    Dear god two no three F*cking Tory parties.

  6. StephenHenderson

    Its funny how rightwing peeps are constantly saying the left aren’t connecting with people (keep kidding yourself).

    First they ridiculed the idea of the squeezed middle- then they noticed that everybody accepted it and was suing the phrase so they jumped on the bandwagon.

    Second they ridiculed Labour talking about fairness and bad business– then they noticed that everyone agreed so they belatedly tried to start talking about it too.

    And oh how they laughed at ‘wimmins ishoos’- till they lost all the women voters.

    Now they are moaning about Occupy LSX and OWS– but next week they will probably be packing a sleeping bag.

    Fact is we are in the right place and people are coming round.

  7. Rob the crip

    Look at the picture he put Blair next to Thatcher says everything.

  8. Stephen Farrington

    I'm reading: Labour and the Conservatives need to reach out to the ordinary voter http://t.co/mbH5EHOb

  9. Kevin leonard

    The biggest problem all political parasite parties have is the fact that none are prepared to abolish the whip system in favour of a more democratic house of commons. No matter what the local candidate may feel about his constituent voters they are unable to fight for their rights if they go against the wishes of the dictatorial style leaders of the party.

  10. House Of Twits

    RT @s_farrington I'm reading: Labour and the Conservatives need to reach out to the ordinary voter http://t.co/EECE46HJ

  11. Joanne Dixon-Jackson

    RT @s_farrington I'm reading: Labour and the Conservatives need to reach out to the ordinary voter http://t.co/EECE46HJ

  12. Blair Supporter

    Thatcher got 41% votes, skilled manual workers,Tony Blair 50%, neither party had breakthru w strivers 2010 @leftfootfwd http://t.co/Gi5ghRb2

  13. Nick Faith

    .@DJSkelton of @Policy_Exchange explains how Labour and the Tories can reconnect with the ordinary voter: http://t.co/784Xc8AM

  14. Alasdair

    I like how there’s no mention of the Liberal Democrats in this article. I guess they’re just screwed whatever happens.

  15. David Skelton

    My @leftfootfwd piece about why both political parties have to do more to appeal to the ordinary voter: http://t.co/AC3L97Os

  16. Ed's Talking Balls

    I don’t think anyone has ridiculed the idea of ‘the squeezed middle’, rather a few people might have had a giggle at the slogan. Still, it’s hardly a political masterstroke by Miliband to have noticed that stagnant wages, rising unemployment and spiralling inflation has many people in a bad place. No-one has failed to realise this.

    People ridiculed Miliband’s business speech not because of his remarks on asset-strippers etc. They mocked him because of his subsequent failure to describe what constitutes ‘bad’ business and they also laughed at the hypocrisy of accepting donations from those he publicly denounced.

    ‘Wimmins ishoos’ won’t win or lose an election. It’s clearly true that no party should alienate an entire gender; that’s plainly right morally as well as in an electoral sense. This doesn’t mean that the leader of Mumsnet should be deified, however, and every government should focus on society as a whole, not split us off into discrete subsets.

    And as for ‘Occupy London Stock Exchange’, a few cretins protesting about capitalism is nothing new and nothing radical. It’s pretty funny that you paint this as a bandwagon that anyone sane or intelligent would consider joining.

    That lot aren’t in the right place and no-one will come round to the ludicrous views they spout.

  17. Leon Wolfson

    @2 – I’m on the left. Labour are moving right. I’ll be spoiling my ballot paper again next time, unless there’s a major change of tune.

    Talking Balls – Yes, running VERY scared of groundswell popular protest ain’t ya. The left are actually doing something again…of COURSE they’re not in the “right place”, they’re not to the right at all.

  18. Ed's Talking Balls

    Very scared? Genuinely laughable.

    On the contrary, I like it when the left behaves like this. It’s when you’re at your most unelectable so, please, keep right at it!

    And just briefly, I’d have to take issue with the phrase ‘groundswell popular protest’. A tiny number of morons putting tourists off visiting a Cathedral doesn’t really fit the description.

    People, understandably, aren’t best enamoured with this government, but that hardly means they’re flocking to join the great unwashed in making placards, being a nuisance, not having a job and indulging in hyperbole.

  19. Leon Wolfson

    There is no political party to the left, so your hyperbole completely fails even before an accuracy test.

    Really? No, seems the bankers are still at work, laundering money, snorting crack, plunging this country into recession, hiding their money overseas and escaping the consequences of their actions.

    Hm. No, you stand RIGHT up for the bankers, puppet.

  20. Tom Greeves

    My @leftfootfwd piece about why both political parties have to do more to appeal to the ordinary voter: http://t.co/AC3L97Os

  21. The graphs that should worry Ed Miliband | Left Foot Forward

    […] Labour and the Conservatives need to reach out to the ordinary voter – David Skelton, October 19th […]

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