FOR once, Nick Clegg probably had his finger on the public pulse when he told reporters at his monthly press conference that you could almost hear the wearied sigh of voters as the parties launched their election campaigns over the weekend.
The problem was that the Deputy Prime Minister’s press conference was all about launching his own party’s election campaign, with the same argument he has been using for the best part of five years – you can only trust the Tories or Labour to run the economy if they are in partnership with the Lib Dems. If the polls are anything to go by, the voters are still not listening to Mr Clegg or the Lib Dems, who are perilously close to facing a wipe-out in May this year – not least in Scotland where they poll at just 3 per cent.
No wonder Mr Clegg complained of the populism of the SNP and Ukip – a little rich considering the very same tactic helped elevate his party to government.
But as we begin four months of remorseless campaigning, the question may well be whether the voters are listening to any of the parties or whether apathy and disaffection are at an all-time high. One thing which is almost certain is that the record turnout seen for Scotland’s independence referendum will not be repeated for the general election.
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And the early blows between Chancellor George Osborne and his shadow Ed Balls yesterday also highlighted a problem over who to believe in the “he said, he said” merry-go-round of the Tory “dodgy dossier” and Labour’s counter-claims on public spending. But the most interesting intervention yesterday came from Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, who complained that the parties, including his own, were too concerned with the “silver vote” (pensioners to the rest of us). This was highlighted around the referendum, with some Yes campaigners complaining about older voters rejecting independence in large numbers.
The problem is that pensioners are the one group most likely to vote, so the parties have all promised to protect their pensions at the expense of other age groups. It is notable that while work-age benefits, youth services and child support have been slashed, the state pension – which makes up almost half the welfare bill – is protected by a triple-lock guarantee.
Mr Khan wants to restore the balance by making it easier for teenagers to be able to vote at school as well as extending the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds for all elections. However, the lowest turnout is almost always among 18- and 19-year-olds and maybe the real answer is giving them and others a reason to vote – which just isn’t happening at the moment.
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