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Given all the money's gone, the Coalition should appeal to the Alarm Clock heroes' hearts rather than their wallets

Tim Montgomerie

As James Forsyth has pointed out the Tories didn't do particularly well at the last election among C1s - what I call "the pound-stretching class" - the voters who have to worry about bills, crime and can't afford to exit state monopoly services.

All successful governments depend upon them for electoral success and today Nick Clegg has made a pitch for them in an article for The Sun. He's called them the "Alarm Clock heroes" (a phrase I don't like);

"People, like Sun readers, who have to get up every morning and work hard to get on in life. People who want their kids to get ahead. People who don't want to rely on state handouts. People who don't need politicians to tell them what to think or how to live their lives. People who are not poor but struggle to stay out of the red."


Mr Clegg, who is writing on behalf of the Coalition (I'm told and not just the Lib Dems), lists some of the policies designed to help Alarm Clock Britons (a phrase, Bagehot notes, inspired by Nicolas Sarkozy):

  • Taking the low-paid out of income tax;
  • Stopping Labour's National Insurance rise;
  • Investing more in schools;
  • Greater spending on childcare for young families;
  • Protecting the pensions of grandparents.
Given the economic circumstances the big thing missing from Clegg's list are the non-economic things that motivate the people that John Howard called "the battlers" and Stephen Harper called "Tim Horton voters" (named after a value-for-money donut and coffee shop). Harper's chief strategist, Patrick Muttart, noted that (and I quote Henry Olsen) "working-class voters do not fit neatly on the traditional left-right continuum":

"They are fiscally conservative, wanting low rates of taxation and wanting government to live within its means, but economically populist, suspicious of trade, outsourcing, and high finance. They are culturally orthodox but morally moderate, in the sense that they don’t feel their lives will change much because of how social issues play out. They are patriotic and supportive of the military, but suspicious of foreign adventures."

If the Coalition is to keep the Alarm Clockers on side during the extreme valley of unpopularity Cameron, Clegg and Osborne need to understand this. The Coalition needs to be tough on crime. Protective of the military. Angry about EU waste and corruption. Moralistic on welfare entitlements (appealing to senses of deserving and undeserving while always maintaining a safety-net for all). Tough on immigration. Proud of British history. Champions of consumers. And (against my instincts) cool on military action overseas. This is all more natural territory for Conservatives than Lib Dems and it is notable that Clegg (unlike Blair) doesn't really talk in these terms at all.

The Coalition will need to offer economic light at the end of the tunnel for the poundstretchers - as David Laws, reportedly the man who will be studying Alan Clock Britons' needs, has already understood - but the economic case is currently tricky when Ed Miliband can shout "VAT" when Nick Clegg says "higher income tax thresholds". The Coalition should (1) look for low cost, high impact tax measures in the meantime and (2) work towards a 2014/15 manifesto that promises refunds for the higher taxes with which Alarm Clockers are currently repaying Labour's debts.


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