It’s not quite election season yet, but we’re getting there. One of the new things Britain will have to get used to as we conclude our first fixed five-year parliament is the long build-up to a general election. Already the papers are full of polls and speculation. The reality, however, is that no-one knows which way (if any) the 2015 vote is going to go.
For me the fragmentation of the electorate has a simple cause, and it isn’t the financial crisis of 2008 and the slow, painful path back to prosperity we continue as a country to confront. Instead it’s the options we face as voters. As I weigh up my options, I’m forced to admit that no party comes close to representing my interests or my views.
On the biggest question (still) facing the country, how best to recover from the crash, neither of the two largest parties adequately reflects my views. The Conservatives offer fiscal responsibility. But they promise to achieve it by breaking the backs of the poor. They revel in the destruction of public institutions. And a future Conservative government would happily privatize the NHS.
Labour, by contrast, offer a social conscience. No more food banks. No more privatization. But they offer instead more fiscal incontinence. During the 2010 campaign Ed Balls flat out denied that there even was a deficit.
I care about fiscal responsibility and I have a social conscience. Neither Labour nor the Conservative positions represent my views. Why not? Because both plan to save money by cutting things I value while protecting things that don’t benefit me, and wont. Neither party will touch one penny of the vast welfare spending currently going to the retired. Both will guarantee that young people of my generation cannot expect any kind of state pension at all; that is the implication of deficit spending to finance giveaways to wealthy pensioners who don’t need them. Both will, in their separate ways, damage higher education and put my livelihood at risk. The Conservatives by trying to prevent high fee-paying overseas students entering the country. Labour by slashing tuition fees and failing to make up the difference by restoring teaching grants.
The Liberal Democrats claim to offer what I want. Nick Clegg sounds quite convincing when he makes his case for a future coalition. We have been the Tories’ social conscience, he says. We will be Labour’s sense of fiscal responsibility. Perhaps. Even with 25 MPs the party might still hold the Westminster balance. But it has had five years. My response is simple; is that the best you can do?
Crucially, no-one plans to do anything about house prices. House prices have risen to such ridiculous heights that I will never be able to afford to buy a house in London no matter what I do. One day (hopefully not any time soon) I will inherit property from my parents. But with the inheritance tax threshold fixed at half the price of the average two-bedroom flat in London, I can expect a big chunk of that inheritance to disappear, probably enough to ensure I still won’t be able to buy a place. The average price of a house in London is twenty times the average salary in London. This is not a sustainable situation.
The ridiculously inflated cost of housing is the most important issue facing people of my generation. No party will do anything about it. Insisting on giving the same benefits to all over-65s regardless of wealth or income means guaranteeing that under-35s can expect no retirement benefits at all. No party will do anything about it. Instead we face two likely scenarios. Nigel Farage as deputy PM and an economically catastrophic (not to mention politically myopic) EU exit. Or a Lib/Lab/SNP coalition, six months of having an Aardman animation as PM before he gets knifed in the back by Ed Balls, and even more long-term borrowing to finance short-term expenditure while investment in human capital and physical infrastructure is cut.
I’m going to vote. I think everyone should vote. But when a middle-class, Oxford-educated, professional white man from London feels no political party represents him, you know something has gone seriously wrong.