Winning votes by keeping promises
I saw some of the coverage of the historic 'Keep the Promise' rally against child poverty yesterday, including an interview where the BBC journalist asked a question which was unintentionally very revealing. She asked whether, given the tough economic times, and the fact that "ordinary people" are feeling the pinch economically, it was realistic to call for the government to spend an extra £3 billion on child poverty.
Hilary Fisher, the Director of End Child Poverty Campaign, gave a very good answer. She said that the money could be found if there was the political will to do it, giving a few examples, and that people who were watching at home and finding it hard to make ends meet at this time should think about how much tougher it is for people who are having to manage on less than £7,000/year.
The assumptions behind that question show the way that many people get this issue wrong. The way the media, and many politicians, see things is that child poverty is about "the other", deserving victims to be pitied and (possibly) helped by "ordinary people". And politically, these children live in poor 'Labour heartland/council estate' areas, far away from the marginal constituencies where 'Middle England' lives. So spending money on reducing child poverty is a good cause, but not one of those issues which will decide the election, and reducing poverty should be done quietly, so as not to let Middle England know that their taxes are being spent on Others at a time when Middle England is feeling the Tax Burden weigh heavily.
To see why this is not right, let's take four marginal constituencies, all in London and the South East - Battersea, Gillingham, Hove and Dartford. All four won narrowly by Labour at the last election, all four needed by the Tories if they want to be in government after the next election. Have a guess at the percentage of children in each of these areas that are growing up in low income families.
It's 42%, 39%, 39% and 32%. Complete list here.
In every single marginal constituency at the next election, victory or defeat will be decided by the people who are living on low incomes and bringing up children - whether they go and vote, and who they go and vote for. These aren't some small number of marginalised victims, these are the swing voters who in their thousands will decide who forms the next government. Every "ordinary person" watching the BBC News will have friends, family members, or would themselves benefit if the government keeps the promise and takes the next steps towards ending child poverty. Because an essential part of ending child poverty is making sure that their parents and carers have enough money to be able to live with dignity and support a family.
Halving child poverty in a decade would be one of the greatest achievements of any government. It's one of those times when doing the right thing, and doing the thing which makes political sense are the same.