Go Back

View from the Street: Our politicians must give people hope – not drama

Rachel Watson

Associate partner

Did you watch the ITV leaders debate on Tuesday night?  

If so, you indulged in a minority pursuit.  

Some 4.8 million viewers tuned in, which represents just one in ten 10 UK voters. That’s nearly two million fewer than watched Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson in 2019 and little more than half the 9.4 million people who watched David Cameron go head-to-head with Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg in 2010. 

Two weeks into a six-week campaign and the electorate is barely paying attention to the party leaders, never mind the rest. 

It’s a sobering thought for a self-confessed geek. As a former political editor turned comms advisor, there are few things in life I find more thrilling than a general election, with all the twists, turns and tantrums they entail.  

I often need reminding that most of my friends and family – in common with the majority of Brits – pay scant attention to the party-political dramas and campaign trail gaffes me and my colleagues pore over each day.  

Barring any major upsets, the UK will have its first Labour government since 2010. Sir Keir Starmer is standing – often quite literally – on a platform that promises “change”. It’s no coincidence that polling from Ipsos Mori tells us 73% of voters believe this election represents a time for change. 

One question that occurs as I speak to those outside the political bubble is whether a new government is transformation enough. Maybe what the public really wants is a more seismic improvement in the way politics is done.   

The last few years have been difficult for people and business alike. The Covid pandemic, quickly followed by a cost-of-living crisis, have seen many struggle in their day-to-day lives. 

Meanwhile, in the political bubble, we obsess over the SNP’s handling of Michael Matheson, Sunak’s soaking on Downing Street, the row over Angela Rayner’s address and half-baked proposals for “mandatory” national service. 

I have professional and personal opinions on all these topics, including how the parties have approached messaging and the media. I’ve also come to realise that most people I speak to simply do not care.  

They have no interest in political tittle-tattle, constituency boundary changes, the relative merits of campaign soundbites, or the commentariat’s opinions of who won, lost or blew the latest debate.  

They want politicians to explain how their policies will impact their lives, their businesses, and their pockets. They want the media to push candidates for practical solutions, rather than engage in endless gossip about the latest campaign misstep or perceived scandal. 

On July 4, people will be voting in the fifth general election since 2010. On top of this was the Brexit referendum, council elections and we’ve seen five prime ministers since 2016. 

In Scotland we’ve also had three Scottish parliament elections and an independence referendum in the same period. And we’re now on our third first minister in less than two years. 

During this time, most people will have seen little improvement in their lives or little in the way of hope that improvement is coming. Party bosses need to remember that they’re speaking to a country fed up with politics.  

It has been noted many times that politics is becoming more polarising.  

This polarisation is isolating too. The average voter in the UK is going to the polling station to vote for the party they believe will best represent them and help improve their lives.  

Priorities obviously differ from person to person, but polling shows the top concerns of voters across the UK are the economy, health, immigration and housing. 

We need to hear more positive messaging from our leaders on what exactly they would do on each of these issues and how this would help. And we need less of the mudslinging and talking down of opponents. 

Of course, all parties will legitimately question and criticise their rivals’ records. It’s not enough on its own, though, and it’s becoming more apparent that it is not what the public wants to hear either. 

If we want more voters to be more engaged, our politicians must start rethinking their messaging. All too often from the outside it can seem like those in the political bubble are lost in a game of one-upmanship. 

But this election is not a game. It’s about people’s lives. And what our politicians need to concentrate on for the next four weeks is telling people how they intend to improve the lot of individuals, families, communities and business.