Labour must appeal to older voters to win again

by Liam Byrne | 07.07.15 | in: Labour's future, National news, Pensions, Uncategorized, Universities, Science & Skills, Westminster

Dear friends,

You may have seen my piece in the Telegraph today on why Labour must appeal to older voters in order to win again. You can read it here or below:

You can also see some slides on the work here: Older Voters – Infographics.

 


For years, politicians have sought to be on the right side of the ‘silent majority’. The millions of voters who don’t scream and shout, organise sit-ins or daub slogans on war memorials.

Well, now there’s a new force in the land: Britain’s ‘silver majority’, the voters aged over the age of 55 who may for the first time, make up the majority of voters in the 2020 general election.

It’s a vote the Tories are ruthlessly targeting to win with a £10.5 billion rise in welfare payments for the over 65s – while working age social security is cut.

At the last election, our leader Ed Miliband was famously interviewed by Russell Brand. In retrospect it may have made more sense to hang out at Saga. The Tory majority amongst the over 65s was an incredible 2 million votes.

That was no accident. The last government channelled an extra £19 billion in welfare payments to pensioners – four times more than went to working age families and children – with policies like the triple lock on pensions, great interest rates on pensioner bonds, a council tax freeze – and a promise not to touch winter fuel allowance or free bus passes.

The dramatic new evidence means that Labour’s politicians have to think again about their priorities if they want to win back office.

Those born before the turbulent year of 1965, when Britain buried Churchill, will at the next election, change the balance of politics. Age Concern research shows that despite all their advantages, the ‘baby boomers’ are pessimistic about the direction of the country, value strong leaders, and above all put the health of the economy first.

I’ve been exploring the question in my constituency for several years, and the headlines are pretty stark for Labour.

Older voters people don’t think the ‘system’ gets the right help to the right people – and would like to see a return to the contributory principle which matched the help you get, to the money you put in. Nearly half said we spend the wrong amount on social security – and nearly two thirds said the people who need welfare benefits were not the ones that get help.

Three quarters said benefits should be more closely linked to contributions.

Everyone was worried about increasing the state pension age and liked ideas like a flexible retirement age, allowing retirement after a fixed period paying National Insurance plus more pension tax relief for people on regular income. Everyone wanted Carers’ Allowance put up.

Yet at the last election, most Labour candidates were left scrabbling around for something to say to older voters while the Tories offered a triple lock on pensions, a council tax freeze, no change to pensioner benefits, and exemption from the bedroom tax. They’re not stupid. And if the Tories hold their vote share of pensioners at the next election they will add an incredible 600,000 extra pensioner votes.

The challenge for Labour’s new leader is simple. Get the silver majority back on side. Or leave Labour on the sidelines.

Liam Byrne MP

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