Should the Conservatives make a pitch for the ANTI-voters - and, if so, how? (Part Two)
By Paul Goodman
I highlighted yesterday some important elements of James Bethell's paper about the five million ANTI-voters, and want today to answer the question: "Should the Conservatives make a special pitch for them?"
It's worth asking at the start whether political parties should make a special pitch for any group of voters at all. My answer to that question is "yes". Politics is partly about trying to do the right thing, and partly about taking people with you. The first objective can't be achieved without the second - at least, in sufficient number. The second objective is empty without the first. So, for example, I believe that the Party should be making a special pitch to "Sid's heirs" (what some people call "The Squeezed Middle", and are more neutrally labelled the C!s and C2s) through a programme of controlling immigration, providing homes, improving schools, selling shares, and cutting tax.
Would this platform also appeal to the ANTIs? The answer is, in significant part, is no.
- The two groups aren't the same. The ANTIs are angry by definition: indeed, being angry is what, according to Bethell unites the one and a half million or so people who voted for UKIP and the BNP, plus another three and a half million people who don't vote at all. The C1s and C2s include millions of voters who plumped for one of the three main parties, some of whom may not be angry at all, and others for whom anger may not be a definining characteristic.
- Lower tax is a relatively low priority for the ANTIs. The three priorities of UKIP and BNP voters, as we've seen, are - in reverse order - the EU, crime and immigration. But of these issues, the last is by far the most important, accoding to Bethell: one could go as far as to say that this group of voters is focused on immigration, immigration, immigration. It clearly doesn't want higher taxes, but lower taxes came in sixth in its list of concerns, and it doesn't tend to buy shares. Furthermore, there's also no evidence that it favours a common belief of most Conservatives: that the state should be smaller. Indeed, since, to quote Bethell "many of these voters clearly feel powerless in the face of globalisation", the reverse may be the case.
- Over half the ANTIs - those who don't vote at all - are unlikely to be swayed in large numbers by anything politicians say about anything. As I wrote yesterday, those eligible to vote don't divide into two neat groups - voters and non-voters - since they can drift, so to speak, in and out of voting, doing so in one election and not doing so in the next. However, turnout in general elections since 1992 has fallen from the high 70s to the low to mid 60s. A large group of those eligible to vote aren't doing so, and it's reasonable to think that they're more resistant to politicians' promises than UKIP and BNP voters (at least, according to Bethell's findings).
My answer, again, is no, because -
- As above, over half the ANTIs are unlikely to be swayed in large numbers by anything politicians say about anything.
So should politicians simply ignore them, then? Yet again, the answer's no, because it would be wrong to write off the concerns of a whole swathe of voters.
The best course that the Party can take, in relation to this group of voters and others, is to focus "like a laser beam" on the immigration issue - which it should be tackling anyway. Bethell's research shows that most of the concerns of these voters and non-voters about uncontrolled immigration - the unrelieved pressure that it's brought on jobs, schools, hospitals, housing and transport - are shared by very many people who vote for the mainstream political parties, and by others.
The Government therefore has until 2015 to make voters feel, at the very least, that the pressure on jobs and services has been relieved: that they're not being undercut if they're holding down a job or seeking one; that their children can get a place in a good local school, and that the staff aren't overwhelmed by pupils who can't speak English; that they've a fair chance of getting social housing if they need it, and so on. All this isn't so much about what Ministers say as about how people feel.
The former are therefore pressed for time in delivering the Government's pledge to reduce immigration to the "tens of thousands". In order to help deliver it, they should be taking a long, hard look at Nick Boles's proposals: that non-EU migrants pay a surety deposit, that some EU migrants should be told to leave Britain (he argues that this is legally possible), and that no immigrants should be eligible for social housing until five years after arrival.
Would such measures attract some voters, but repel others in equal measure? Bethell's research doesn't cover such radical measures. But I read it to suggest that how a proposal is presented can be as important as what it contains. If further measures are focused on most voters' concerns - the pressure on jobs, houses, schools, hospitals, and transport - there's no reason why they shouldn't be popular.