Having written about Nigel Farage in this space, I subsequently met him. Well, I shook his hand before he gave a speech at a black-tie dinner, before a relatively select (they let me in?) couple of hundred guests. “Chatham House rules”, so I can’t write about what he said, but his appeal is fair game.
I can also view him, incredible as it is for me to comprehend – as a near contemporary. Farage aged 50 is pretty much how I imagined 50 would look and sound like growing up. He appears to be of my parents’ “fifty” unlike the “me” I believe myself to be, as I approach that landmark.
So much of Farage’s appeal relative to our other political leaders comes down to his saying what older voters - those on either side of 50 and the more mature - want to hear. This matters greatly because of some stark statistics about voting.
Last week, High50 published the results of a major survey into the habits and attitudes of the contemporary 50+ generation. Among the most striking findings was that 85% of 50-65-year-olds say they always, or nearly always, vote. Which, given that the average voting percentage at the last three general elections, was only 55% to 60%, suggests a lot of younger voters don’t.
What’s more, 48% of 50-65 year-olds have switched party allegiance during their lives and 34% are currently “undecided”. In the light of the Scottish referendum, it’s notable that 54% say they are now more engaged with political issues than they were in 2010, at the time of the last election.
‘The 50+ Project’ also revealed that 52% believe that Britain should stay in the EU, which you might think would be bad news for UKIP; however, nearly half (49%) believe a quota on immigration should be introduced and nearly a third (27%) thought immigration should be stopped altogether. That still leaves 48% believe we should quit the EU!
These same people no longer believe what David Cameron says, particularly on Europe. They will not be fooled by posturing over the “extra” £1.7bn we suddenly have to contribute, because of our alleged economic success. They understand the stark reality behind Angela Merkel’s rejection of any restriction on EU freedom of movement. They are also deeply cynical of his promises over the Scotland vote.
This same voting block can see the truth in Johann Lamont’s resignation accusations about London “dinosaurs” treating the Scottish Labour party like “a branch office”. They can’t abide Ed Miliband blocking her from attacking the bedroom tax “while he made up his mind over it” and will never trust a man who was prepared to do over his far more electable brother in the first place.
Nick Clegg? What does he stand for or against? And what’s the point if he will renege on it for power? This is how people over 50 think – and vote.
How do I know? Commercially and politically, I’ve surveyed them; socially – as friends and acquaintances – I’ve debated with them; and journalistically, we have shared back and forth for years. Next month, I will become “them”. “They” becomes “we” as I turn 50. Above all, “we” want politicians who actually mean what they say and say what say mean. Is it really too much to ask?
Stefano Hatfield is editor-in-chief of High50.com
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