by Peter Watt
There are a lot of clever people who have recently been analysing the relative merits of the political parties and their respective political fortunes. Over the Christmas and new-year period pundits have written article after article about the ramifications of the latest polls, changes in demography and so on. I even penned a piece myself although I certainly wouldn’t put myself in the “clever” bracket!
The consensus seems to be that the Tories are very unlikely to form a majority after 2015 and that the most likely outcome is the formation of a government of some sort lead by Ed Miliband. There have though been one or two siren voices. These are saying that Labours position is less certain and that it needs to watch its economic polling numbers which appear to be going in the wrong direction following the chancellor’s autumn statement.
Just before new year I tweeted that:
“@PeterWatt123 I always hate the last few days of the year. Makes me feel sad.”
It was meant as a slightly maudlin reflection on the emotional highs and lows of the festive period. But in response, Ian Austin MP, who I respect and occasionally joust with on Twitter, quipped that:
“@IanAustinMP Surely you could write piece for Labour Uncut about how end of year is all Labour’s fault, proof of unfitness to govern etc.”
It was a good riposte and I guess indicates that Ian is not a fan of my blogs! But Ian does make a fair point that on the whole I am not comfortable with some of the direction of travel of the Labour party at the moment.
I worry that most of our poll lead is solely down to current government unpopularity, that Ed is still not seen as prime ministerial and that our stock with the electorate is dangerously low when it comes to the economy, welfare reform and immigration. And I honestly think that our economic message is disingenuously trying to look both ways on the central issue of deficit reduction and the scale of cuts required whoever wins next time, regardless of whether we have economic growth.
But most of all I worry that no political party is seen by voters as having the answers to their worries and concerns. Because at its heart, current political discourse is still being conducted between the political parties inside the rarefied world of the political bubble. It certainly isn’t being conducted with voters.
Actually, on reflection I think that the notion of the “bubble” is wrong as it suggests a fragility to the barrier between the political elite and the voters!
What politicians frequently forget is that deciding to support a political party is essentially a feelings based thing. It’s rarely if ever a purely rational assessment of the relative merits of the respective parties’ policy approaches.
It’s about which party individual voters feel best meets their needs. To a large extent it’s why Boris won in London; it wasn’t because he had the best policies (or not) it’s because people liked him. Right now voters are continuing to develop impressions about the political parties and their leaders. And the impressions that are formed will be carried all the way to the polling stations in 2015 (or not).
I don’t mean that voters choose who they vote for superficially, I mean that the reasons for their choices are complex but that they are not the reasons that many political pundits recognise. UKIP for instance are generally not gaining support because of their anti-European Union stance but because they are seen as not the political mainstream. Yet the response from the other parties to their rise in support seems to wrongly assume that their support is highly eurosceptic and quite probably racist.
As the decorations begin to come down over the coming days the thought of many people will turn to their immediate futures. They will be reflecting on the size of their post-Christmas credit card bill and whether or not they can afford a family holiday this year. Perhaps they would like to replace the car or carry out some home improvements? After all they had done this in the past. The answers to these questions will be important in determining how people feel about politics and the political parties.
I don’t think that when the Tories, Lib Dems or Labour talk about the pressure that working families are under that they get this. They think that being a bit eurosceptic means voters don’t like Europe. Or that being anti-scrounger is because they inherently opposed to welfare payments. But this misses the point. People who work hard week in and week out do so to be able to take that holiday; so that they can improve the house and drive a nice car.
They want to be able to help the kids out as they grow up and feel that they are preparing for retirement. Currently they are worried about booking the holiday, or replacing the car. The credit card bill is a concern and they can’t contemplate getting any work done on the house. And yet they are still working just as hard if not harder. Money isn’t going as far and they are worried about the future.
It is this worry and uncertainty more than anything else that is driving the political views of the much sought after strivers. It just doesn’t seem clear to me that any of the main parties get this. That is why I suspect that Jon Cruddas is right when he says that UKIP are likely to have “a great 2013 and an even better 2014”. And that is where Ian is wrong. I don’t think that Labour is unfit to govern at all, even if I do have concerns. But I do worry that significant numbers of voters don’t think that Labour or the Tories are.
Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party