General Election 2015: This election is all about insecurity

Durham University's Thom Brooks on the key issue that is plaguing the voters - and the party best placed to address it

Thom Brooks, of Durham Law School
Thom Brooks, of Durham Law School

An election is brewing, but will it be the public’s cup of tea?

It seems everyone knows that May 7 will be unlike any other general election in recent memory. But where most disagree is why.

Some point out rising support for newer parties or to the public’s growing disillusionment with politics as usual. But new parties tend to lose support when elections draw closer and voters examine such groups more closely.

High turnout in Scotland’s independence referendum vote showed that people care – and especially when there’s something worth caring about like keeping the ‘United’ in the ‘United Kingdom’.

So what’s really different about the general election later this spring? One difference is we’ve known the date for nearly five years because of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. This has had the unwelcome effect of ensuring we’re in for a dull few weeks as the government virtually waits out its remaining legislative timetable to get on with election campaigning. Surely priorities are in the wrong order here.

A second difference is we can expect a longer than usual campaign. But when did the public call out for more campaigning? Someone in the coalition government is clearly not listening. Or perhaps enjoying the sound of their own voices too much.

What makes 2015 unlike past elections is the increasing rejection of the status quo. Keeping calm about carrying on is no longer in season. Change is now in fashion. Voters are looking for something new – and pollsters are desperate to uncover what this is. So let me offer some advice free of charge to them. For now.

The big election issue this year can be summed up in one word: Insecurity. The party that best tackles the insecurity voters have about the future will enter 10 Downing Street this May.

Insecurity is found everywhere. Ask around. The economy is a real concern for a lot of people. We’re told there is a recovery under way, but the only recovery many can find is a return to the big bonuses for the few at the expense of the many. Maybe the government was right to say ‘we’ are all in this together. But they should have said ‘we’ does not include most of us.

People have real concerns about remaining in work our finding a new job. The government might say unemployment is down, but you hear little about what kinds of jobs are on the up such as zero-hour contracts and work paying below a living wage. Job insecurities like these are not always the good news the Chancellor is too quick to trumpet, sometimes hitting a sour note (sorry, I couldn’t resist). An economy working for all. Now that’s a campaign slogan worth chanting loudly.

Insecurity extends to other issues, too. The sudden changes to education policy including how schools are funded and assessed nationally are a real concern for parents, children and teachers alike. And that’s before we turn to the major changes introduced to how higher education is funded by trebling student fees. Remember when Nick Clegg argued in 2010 he’d lead a party of no more broken promises? The problem for Liberal Democrats is many of us do.

Immigration might rank high because it encapsulates so well many of the insecurities people have about other things. The evidence makes clear migrants are job creators bringing much needed skills and experiences supporting economic growth.

But many continue to fear they bring the opposite adding to general insecurities about finding affordable housing, decent jobs and threaten local economies in addition to additional insecurities about integration.

Tackling voter insecurity about the future is about addressing concerns in these areas and more. It is this deeper need for a politics that can rise to meet the aspirations that citizens have for the short-term and beyond. Policies by alternative parties in the political wilderness can be easy to sell where there brands have been neither tested nor tasted.

Insecurity can be overcome by improving confidence. This is about more than making people more confident about their present, but offering a future worth looking forward to.

Voters don’t want more of the same. David Cameron hasn’t got this message. The Tory billboards show a bumpy road slithering into the future asking us to vote for them if we are happy with things as they are. They should show greater care for what they wish for.

Change is what voters want. The best cure for disillusionment and alienation is to give people something to believe in again. Something we can all connect with. A politics of hope that’s realistic and credible could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

This political vision is best promoted by the Labour Party although it remains to be seen if it can provide the cure for voter insecurities it promises.

Ed Miliband has defended a One Nation politics that’s about a vision to be shared by all citizens in all communities to change our country together.

He was first to identify the squeezed middle many of us find ourselves in and the cost of living crisis we endure under the current government. Working hard doesn’t pay like it used to. Miliband acknowledges the voter insecurity that is clearly present, but so often overlooked. He deserves more credit for this than he receives. Knowing is at least half the battle.

There is a long election campaign kicking off next month. The key to which party will win might be decided by which can best tackle insecurities across a range of issues – and Labour currently holds an advantage that it must work hard at to maintain. It may be too early to call, but if I’m right I told you so.

Professor Thom Brooks is Chair in Law and Government and Director, Undergraduate Studies (Law) at Durham Law School, Durham University.

@thom_brooks

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