Democracy’s a funny thing.
Less than a week ago, the knives were out for Ed Miliband, and the Labour conference was reported as being a sombre affair rather than an enthusiastic expression of a party’s willingness to claim victory in next year’s general election. Mr Miliband was roundly criticised for his speech and one could have been forgiven for expecting the Conservatives to capitalise on Labour weaknesses at their own conference.
The reality has of course been very different. The Conservatives now appear in disarray following the resignation of Brooks Newmark and the defection to Ukip of Mark Reckless – the latter perhaps having even greater significance as it has prompted close scrutiny of who, if anyone, might be next to jump from the Tory ranks to Nigel Farage’s ‘People’s Army’, while underlining the tempestuous relationship that David Cameron continues to have with some of his backbenchers.
The result is that Labour continues to hold a significant lead in the polls that, if maintained, could result in what William Hague has described as the weakest opposition in all his time in Parliament winning a majority in May 2015, as demonstrated by new polling from Lord Ashcroft.
The Conservative riposte, reported widely in the media this morning, has been for George Osborne to announce to that he is axing the so called ‘death tax’ on pension pots, which will allow the elderly to leave more to their heirs when they die. It’s a move that has been interpreted as a Conservative appeal to the older generation, who are not only more likely to vote but who are considered more likely to cast a vote for Ukip.
This demonstrates how the battle for older voters is likely to be key to determining the outcome of the election – and political strategists should expect that a significant proportion of the parties’ manifestos will be designed to appeal to this specific demographic. The elephant in the room could well be what is included to secure the support of younger voters.
It’s a strange situation, given that in the last month both Alex Salmond and Ed Miliband have thrown their weight behind lowering the voting age, but younger voters could be the forgotten demographic of May 2015 if much of the parties’ manifestos are geared towards the older generations. This could have significant long-term implications for the electoral process in the UK, and could well see a repeat of low voting figures particularly amongst 18-25 year olds.
Older voters will inevitably play a critical role in determining who occupies Downing Street after the General Election, but it would be hugely remiss of the main political parties to focus on this demographic at the expense of younger voters. Central to appealing to 18-25 year olds will be the explanation of an economic plan that will deliver growth and therefore jobs. At present, this ought to put the Conservatives in a strong position by virtue of having not only a defined economic policy but a track record of fostering growth since 2010. But this on its own might not be enough – and the challenge for the Conservatives – as well as Labour, the Lib Dems and even Ukip – will be communicating economic policy and relating it to young people.