Janet Street-Porter: Whatever their age or persuasion, Britain’s voters are desperate for politicians who speak their language

A recent poll found that 44 per cent of young people felt that they are not being listened to

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The Independent Online

The first radio programme I caught on my return to Britain the other day was The World at One, and I noticed a new trendy catchphrase in circulation. The “left-behinds” – the people who will, according to a new book by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin, decide the next election, rather than Mondeo man or Maidstone woman or the miserable Neets.

The authors reckon that the left-behinds are mainly elderly, white, and working class, and that this disaffected group – members of which used to vote Labour – are being targeted by Ukip. If this is true, then Ukip will damage Labour’s chances in the next election as much as they will affect the Tories.

Ford and Goodwin say that the left-behinds come from the large section of the population (40 per cent in 1964) who used to be blue-collar workers and union members. Now, just one in five is in a union and manual work has shrunk to less than a third of total jobs. But the whole notion of a discrete group of people feeling left behind in society is just plain daft. Yes, many do feel that politicians are not speaking to them, and cynicism about political parties is at an all-time high. But I don’t think that that translates into feeling left out – which implies social isolation.

As for young people – who are often cited as the “lost generation”, which is another irritatingly catchy but inaccurate tag – it’s true that a recent poll for Sky News found that 44 per cent of young people felt that they are not being listened to and half don’t even know the name of their MP. The number of 16- to 24-year-olds who vote in elections has shrunk from 63 per cent in 1992 to 44 per cent in 2010. But young people are passionate about issues when those issues affect their lives, and campaign most vociferously when they see injustice. Young people are naturally political animals – it’s just that the current parties don’t speak their language.

If voter registration were actively encouraged and debated at school (which Labour says it will do if elected), then things would be very different. In Scotland, 16- and 17-year-olds have the right to vote in the referendum and 80 per cent have registered – totally disproving the theory that the young don’t want to engage in democracy.

The same applies to the so-called left-behinds. All that is needed is a change in language and a different kind of candidate. People like Nigel Farage because he looks and sounds like a one-off. It’s that simple. People in Britain are united about a whole lot of things – love of the NHS, a passion for sport and fair play, and huge concern about immigration and the rapid change in our society with some areas operating as self-contained ghettoes. The left-behinds will vote for whoever gets off their butt and speaks their language, who comes down their street and walks into their pub. Where are Alan Johnson and Frank Field, two straight-talking Labour politicians who connect with this group?

The sight of Ed Miliband and his youthful gang of Identikit-suited politicos, who don’t look as if they’ve ever done a dirty job in their lives, fills me with depression. Labour still doesn’t get it. The frenzy surrounding the Scottish referendum has seen the number of “don’t knows” shrink as the big day approaches. That proves there’s no such thing as a left-behind.

Why hasn’t this priceless collection been saved?

If the priceless Wedgwood collection wasn’t made of clay, but cast in bronze or sculpted in marble, David Cameron and co would have found the cash to save it for the nation. Josiah Wedgwood is a far more important figure in British art than Constable, Stubbs or Reynolds. He transformed people’s everyday lives right around the civilised world.

Years ago, I wrote a book about the history of the British teapot, and spent days in Stoke-on-Trent marvelling at the Wedgwood collection. The purity and elegance of Wedgwood’s neo-classical work in the mid-18th century still looks modern and relevant today; tea services and tableware that have never been equalled and have been endlessly copied over 250 years.

I don’t understand why this priceless collection of British industrial art is not being purchased for the nation outright – only £2.74m is still required to save it from being dispersed at auction, with the balance already raised by the Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Why should the public have to cough up when the Government wastes more than this on health and safety campaigns? We truly have a Government of philistines.

This collection is not just a British treasure, it is simply one of the five best ceramic collections in the entire world and has to be preserved in one place for everyone to enjoy.

If you thought Ryanair  was bad, try Aer Lingus

I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve found an airline that’s more unpleasant than Ryanair! Travelling to Shannon and back this week on Aer Lingus, I tried to book in the first 10 rows of the plane, only to find that they came up full online in both directions. On boarding the flight, I found there were plenty of empty seats on both journeys, and that these rows offer longer legroom. It looks like this section was once business class, but now the whole plane is economy. In row 13, I had to adopt the praying-mantis position to be able to get into my seat – and my cup of coffee was removed before I boarded, ensuring that I had to buy one of Aer Lingus’s overpriced beverages. After complained, the stewardess fetched me a tiny paper cup of tap water.

On arrival at Shannon, passengers had to walk right around the outside of the building before entering to collect their luggage. Why don’t they use the existing gates? It’s not as if Aer Lingus promotes itself as a “budget” airline. The tickets aren’t cheap, but the experience definitely is. Meanwhile, Ryanair’s new policy of “friendliness” and an improved website seems to be paying off. In August, the airline carried a record number of passengers. I’m still not sure that Micheal O’Leary’s definition of “passenger service” is the same as mine, though.

Why it may not be all good news for female applicants

Good news: women seeking promotion in the civil service will no longer face interview panels composed entirely of men. Research shows that female civil servants don’t think promotions are handed out fairly and that Whitehall isn’t committed to diversity in the workplace. They claim that a white, male, macho culture prevails at the top, and that it’s hard to challenge or question decisions.

Having more women on panels doesn’t necessarily give other women an easier ride. I remember being interviewed by the BBC governors for a senior post once, and I wouldn’t recommend 10 minutes with board member P D James to anyone. I left the room completely demoralised. I was banned from interviewing staff when I was a departmental head, after I made one female applicant burst into tears. Her crime? She’d never watched any of my department’s output, and didn’t seem to think that that was a bit of a mistake.

A foodie honour that’s not just pie in the sky

I’m currently presenting a new food show (Mondays to Fridays at 3.45pm) on BBC1 with chef Brian Turner, called Taste of Britain. I hope you enjoy it. This week, I was thrilled to receive a large pork pie from Samuel Valentine’s delicatessen in Yorkshire, emblazoned with my name in pastry letters. Now I know I’ve arrived!

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