Political parties are being incentivised to govern Britain only in the interests of the elderly – because they are the one generation who reliably vote, a leading Labour politician warns today.
As all three main parties kick off what is likely to be the longest “proxy” election campaign in years, Sadiq Khan told The Independent he is concerned that politicians are now in a vicious circle where they court “silver voters” and neglect the young simply because they were less likely to vote.
The shadow Justice Secretary – who may be in charge of reforming electoral law if Labour wins the next election – said this exacerbated levels of disengagement among people in their 20s and 30s and contributed to a sense of alienation from party politics.
Mr Khan’s comments come as Labour and the Tories prepare to exchange blows over their competing visions for how they would run the country if they are elected in May.
Ed Miliband will use a speech today to claim the election is a choice between a Tory plan where only a few at the top can succeed and public services are threatened, or his Labour vision to put working people first.
At the same time, the Conservatives will use a press conference in London to cast doubt on Labour’s spending commitments, claiming they cannot be fulfilled without either tax rises or more borrowing.
But Mr Khan said the whole election campaign risked being skewed towards the interests of the elderly unless more young people could be encouraged to vote.
He called for far-reaching reform of Britain’s antiquated electoral rules to help deal with low turnout, and re-stated Labour’s commitment to lowering the voting age to 16 – when schools could be used to encourage participation.
“If you speak candidly to a campaign manager of any of the mainstream parties they will say that they concentrate their energies disproportionately on those they know are going to vote,” he said.
“If you’ve got a candidate with an hour spare and a choice to go to an old people’s home or a sixth-form college, 99 per cent of campaign managers will say you’ve got to go to an old people’s home. That’s because 94 per cent of them are on the register and 77 per cent of them will vote. That is not true of the younger generation.”
Mr Khan said it was also clear from looking at the evidence that government fiscal policies over the past five years had disproportionately benefited the same older people who voted.
This has included the so-called “triple lock” on pensions, which ensures that retirement income goes up by inflation or earns 2.5 per cent each year – whichever is the greatest. The universal winter fuel allowance and free bus passes have also been protected for all pensioners regardless of income.
“You look at any empirical analysis of this Government’s policies and you can see they are going for the silver vote,” he said. “You have to ask if that is good for our country.
Experts' predictions for the general election
Experts' predictions for the general election
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
Just as the polls in 2010 pointed to no overall majority for any party, the overwhelming evidence points to Labour either being the largest party or getting a small majority, probably below 20. The Lib Dems and SNP should each win between 25 and 35 seats, with single-figure wins for both Ukip and the Greens.
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
I predict it will be close. I predict a few tremors, though earthquakes are unlikely. I predict the eventual winner may not be the direct result of public opinion, but instead the outcome of political negotiations. It’s too early to predict numbers given all the uncertainties surrounding (among other things) Ukip, the SNP and the Lib Dems. It is possible that it will be close between Conservative and Labour in terms of both votes and seats. The Lib Dems might retain 20-30 seats and the balance of power, despite small gains for the SNP, and at most half a dozen Ukip seats. Gun to my head? Labour minority government.
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
A mug’s game for this election months away, but my predictions in order of likelihood: most likely a hung parliament or coalition of some kind, closely followed by either a small Labour majority or an equally small Conservative majority. Given how close the parties are, the unknown performance of Ukip in key marginals, the effect of incumbency on Lib Dem losses, the final size of SNP surge and so on, to be more precise is simply foolish! Professor Tetlock, who found that forecasts by experts were only slightly better than throwing dice, weighs heavily upon me!
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
I can see a hung parliament, where Labour is the largest party in terms of seats – though not necessarily in terms of votes, with the Lib Dems having 30 seats or fewer, the SNP having up to 20 seats and Ukip having no more than five seats. In short, it’s going to get messy and stay messy for some time to come.
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
I can’t recall there ever being an election more difficult to predict than this one. I’m confident no party will have an overall majority, with the Tories probably the largest party but no single partner for a viable coalition, with the Lib Dems on 25 seats, the SNP 20, Ukip three, and the Greens one.
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
We might have expected a workable Labour majority, were it not for the wild-card rise of the SNP in Scotland. Survation’s December Scottish polls suggest an almost complete wipeout by the SNP in Scotland and result in 40+ seat gains – mostly at Labour’s expense. My current predictions are: Labour the largest party by 40-50 seats over the Tories, no overall majority; Tories 235-255 seats; Lib Dems 20-30 seats; SNP 30-40 seats – maybe held back from potential support level by opposition incumbency and tactical voting by pro-unionist voters. Finally, Ukip, 5-10 wins from Conservatives, including Rochester and Clacton, and potentially a single Labour-seat surprise.
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
The battleground over the next three months is at the kitchen table – the difference between what the statistics tell us about the economy, the experience that Britons are having of managing their household budgets, and where – and if – they believe politics can make a difference. In this regard, the disconnect with the major political parties is more interesting than the horse race.
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
Our first poll for 2015 shows Labour one point ahead [see above], but polls four months out from an election are snapshots, not predictions. It would be extremely unwise for a pollster to make a firm prediction now. At the moment, Opinium’s estimate on polling day would be the Tories slightly ahead on vote share, but Labour slightly ahead on seats. These numbers are based on a uniform swing, with tweaks to Green and Ukip numbers based on local information: Labour 320 seats, Conservatives 271, Lib Dems 20, SNP 16, Plaid Cymru three, Greens two, Ukip four. A hung parliament with Labour potentially closer to a majority coalition than the Conservatives.
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
I’ve not recovered from the Scottish referendum campaign yet, and here we go with another wildcard strewn nail-biter. For me, Labour on 30 per cent will only fractionally nudge past their woeful 2010 showing – behind the Tories on 33 per cent – but enough to secure more seats (290 for Labour, 280 for the Tories) on boundary wackiness. The Lib Dems will secure 14 per cent of the vote and 35 seats; Ukip will also get 14 per cent, but that only gets them a couple of seats. As for Scotland, I’m bewildered, but as you asked I’ll say 30 seats for the SNP, which wipes out a breathing-space victory in seats for Labour.
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
Declined to take part. His spokeswoman said: “As he has said many times, his polls are snapshots not predictions.” Health warning: when The Independent on Sunday carried out a similar exercise in April 2010, at the start of that year’s election campaign, eight out of eight pollsters predicted a Conservative overall majority.
“I have come to the stage now where I think the Establishment – whether you call it conservatism – is making a concerted effort to make it as difficult as possible for there to be a level playing field for everyone to take part.”
Mr Khan said the way to address this problem was to encourage young people in Britain to vote from an early age. But he added that politics as a profession was not reaching out to young voters – precisely because they were less likely to vote.
“These guys get neglected all the time despite the fact that some of them receive brilliant citizenship education and have really interesting views and all the evidence is that if you can get someone to vote the first time they can they’ll carry on voting.
“We as politicians have to understand the responsibility on us to engage young people in politics. If someone is not voting that’s a problem.”
Mr Khan said as well as reducing the age of voting to 16, polling stations should be set up in secondary schools, on-the-day voting registration should be established, and the possibility of a longer voting period and online polling should also be examined.
“Why do elections take place on a Thursday? Why do you have to go to a cold church hall to cast your vote? Why can’t you vote by the web? Why can’t you have same-day registration?
“You can get a mortgage in a day – why can’t you do the same with voting registration? If the concern is fraud, we can address that. Is it in our interests to have as many people as possible active citizens, or do we enjoy the fact that a lot of people are passive consumers and the active citizens are older voters?”
Mr Khan, who led Labour’s successful campaign in last year’s local elections in London, said it was also incumbent on politicians to get out more and be prepared to be confronted by the voters.
He said it was too easy in government to become risk-averse and live in an ivory tower where people told you what you wanted to hear.
“When you become a minister, your car picks you up at 7am, you go and do a visit or make a speech or whatever. You then meet civil servants and people who want to lobby you. There is huge deference. So it’s hardly surprising that you become out of touch and aloof. How then do you keep in touch with what ordinary people are thinking?”