Leading article: Essex is not the only way, Prime Minister

Politicians are wooing the upwardly mobile children of the working class again

Share
Related Topics

Anyone who listened to David Cameron and Nick Clegg yesterday in the hope of hearing something new will have been direly disappointed. The two leaders of a Government which has just taken a drubbing in a nationwide election went all the way to Basildon and held up production in a tractor factory to repeat the same homilies, in much the same words, that they have said so many times before.

The apparent objective of this strange exercise was to answer the charge that the Coalition has been wasting its time on issues such as Lords reform and gay marriage, when it should be concentrating on the economy. That, at least, was the intended symbolism of an event conducted on a factory floor, in front of a mixed audience of workers in overalls, and political journalists. It also explains Nick Clegg's remarks that he cares much more about the economy and apprenticeships than about creating an elected House of Lords.

Those words, combined with David Cameron's significant choice of phrase, when he said that Lords reform was a perfectly sensible measure for Parliament to "consider", will increase scepticism about whether this long-overdue and often-promised act of modernisation is going to happen under the present Government. And if Lords reform is to go into cold storage, we should perhaps not expect action over gay marriage either.

The other interesting symbolism about yesterday's event is that it was staged in Essex. For politicians, it seems that truly "the only way is Essex". Just a few hours before the Cameron-Clegg double act, Ed Miliband was in Harlow to hold a question-and-answer session and stake his claim that it is Labour, not the Coalition, that is "in touch with people's concerns".

The people that the political leaders want to be seen to be in touch with are the upwardly mobile children of the working class. A large proportion of those living in Essex towns like Harlow and Basildon own their own homes and cars and can afford holidays abroad, though a generation or two ago their families were Labour voters living in council estates. They are the people Margaret Thatcher wooed away from Labour, and Tony Blair wooed back.

It can be assumed that issues like Lords reform or gay marriage do not feature high on their daily concerns, so it makes sense for the politicians to push an economic message when seeking the support of Essex man and Essex woman. It will also ease David Cameron's problems with his own party to let these matters slip to the bottom of the Government's "to do" list.

But there is never going to be a convenient or "right" time to reform the House of Lords. There will be endless constitutional complications and sullen resistance from their lordships whenever it is done. Yet all the political parties say that it is the right thing to do, and the public – when asked – agrees. So the Coalition should get on with it, as promised, and not use the poor state of the economy as an excuse for inaction. The same applies to gay marriage, which is less of a burden on parliamentary time.

The reason that the Coalition suffered such a serious electoral setback last week is not that the public is punishing them for being pro gay or anti life peerages. It is because they are presiding over a time of unprecedented economic upheaval and have failed to explain how rafts of unpopular measures, from student fees to capped benefits to granny taxes, can justifiably sit alongside an income tax cut for those on £150,000 a year.

"What you call austerity, I might call efficiency," the Prime Minister said yesterday. The danger is that the public's answer becomes: "What you call efficiency, we call unfair." Hammering out a message about the economy is a good idea – but there is some way to go.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible