Leading article: The wrong tunes for Redditch's young voters

Share
Related Topics
John Major is "quite nice, a decent bloke", according to a young man on our panel of first-time voters in Redditch. He is not the only one who thinks so. This perception of the Prime Minister is widely shared. It also happens to be remarkably imperceptive. John Major is a tough political fighter, a calculating partisan; he has some political achievements to his record, but, like most other politicians at one time or another, he has placed his own leadership and the short-run advantage of party before the common interest.

But let that pass; Brian Mawhinney may think himself entitled to a new year's jig at this widespread sense that John Major is a good bloke, coupled as it is with an almost equally widespread view of the Labour leader as a man with a plastic smile. Cue yet more asinine attacks on the man's physical appearance.

The Tories currently have three songs to sing. Number one is that being hummed by the youth of Redditch, "honest John". The man in shirtsleeves beguiled the punters in 1992, so why not again? (He didn't: all the evidence says that the outcome of the election was decided well in advance of the contest itself and owed nothing to Mr Major's soapbox.) Readers and viewers should stand ready for a deluge of man-in-saloon-bar/sub-Stanley Baldwin images and rhetoric.

The other Tory song in a Major key is good economic news. The Prime Minister's new year's message today is like Philip Glass's music, you can drop into it at any point, even start backwards, and it sounds pretty much like the same chord: things are looking up. According to the Nationwide, house prices will have risen by 15 per cent in the two years ending next winter. This, the Deputy Prime Minister assures us, is the kind of inflation that is good for us. But it is also apparent that there is no reliable relationship between changes in the economic indicators and voting intentions. We have had enough economic recovery by now to see that better prospects for jobs and incomes are not an inducement to commit to voting Tory. Memories of Tory economic incompetence are still strong; and besides, the experience of relative prosperity seems to have lessened the risk factor in voting for Labour.

Mr Mawhinney ought not to dance before he has looked in more depth at what our panel of young people is saying. Young people of the West Midlands may have a spice-girlish perspective on political leadership, but they are also making two other judgements. One is that Labour is a party of ideas. Youth may be cynical about Labour's capacity to "do things" in office but the erstwhile party of the left still seems to these young people to be the carrier of hope for change. The second should worry Tory strategists more. Young people - they undoubtedly share this view with their elders - do not see Labour as a threat.

Which brings us on to the Tories' third song: or rather, warning siren. It is a warning that voting Labour is a "gamble", a risk to your own purse and pocket. But Labour's great achievement of the past year must be the way it has made itself financially safe for power. It has neutralised the charge that it cannot be trusted with management of the public money.

Nevertheless, Labour must still guard its flanks. This week the Cabinet's records for 1966 are opened. The seamen's strike that year will be recollected, along with the activist past of such Labour notables as Prescott. Undue proximity to old-style unionism still holds an electoral danger for Labour. While John Monks of the Trades Union Congress strives to redefine a 21st- century relationship between organised labour and the state, some of his colleagues seem to hanker for the past. The corporatism that John Edmonds of the GMB wants is unpalatable to most people, including union members.

But making Labour safe is not the same as making Labour attractive. Too much attention can (and will be) paid to Tony Blair's personality. Indifferent or low ratings in the personality stakes can be lived with. At her apogee, Margaret Thatcher enjoyed some grim figures for public appreciation of her bearing, voice and persona: she did not win because of her teeth. But Mr Blair's deficit serves to expose Labour's electoral problem. The Tories are disunited, for all the strips of veneer applied by honest John and Michael Heseltine; their economic record (taxes and ejection from the Exchange Rate Mechanism) will dog them till polling day. But, perceiving that, electors will not automatically make it Mr Blair's day. They need a positive reason to vote Labour, and they are not sure they see it yet.

This gap has been noticeable for some months now. It is not about some shopping list of policies - especially one carefully pruned to excise any commitments to spend more. It is more Labour's lack of a theme, along the lines of President Bill Clinton's successful bid to identify himself with what Americans call "soccer moms" - working women with children. Labour has songs with immense popular appeal, about the common condition of society, about order, equity and the effectiveness of social institutions, especially schools. What the people want are more riffs - aphorisms like Tony Blair's own brilliant coinage about crime and its causes.

Labour has its causes. If it is going to do anything in power it must address educational under-attainment by too many of the pupils enrolled in state schools, behaviour in the public space, justice and security at work - which is not at all the same as trying to revive union membership. When it comes to voting, those young people in Redditch are not really going to decide their vote according to their present response to Tony Blair's smile, or his hairdo, nor on John Major's impressively unshirtsleeved forearms. They are going to vote for the party that connects their own concerns and ambitions directly to its policy and programmes.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Police officers attempt to stop illegal migrants from jumping onto trucks headed for Britain in the northeastern French port of Calais on October 29, 2014  

Tighter security in Calais won’t solve the problem

Nigel Morris
 

Football needs its Martin Luther moment, and soon

Boyd Tonkin
US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines