Nathan Gamester is Programme Director for the Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index.
The Conservatives and Labour are fighting polar opposite campaigns. In the blue corner, the focus is on the strength of the economy. The red corner has prioritised the importance of the NHS. One common theme unites both parties: both David Cameron and Ed Miliband want to be placed in charge of Britain’s future prosperity.
Yet, however hard they try, neither side can break the deadlock as poll after poll shows the two parties neck and neck in the race to Downing Street.
Mark Twain once said that history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes. This is certainly true of election campaigns. It’s “the economy, stupid” is the infamous phrase issued by Bill Clinton’s chief strategist, James Carville, during Clinton’s successful 1992 Presidential campaign. And this mantra seems to have been adopted by Tory strategists who are hoping that the economy will be the issue that convinces voters to back David Cameron on 7th May.
Labour, on the other hand is pinning its hopes on the health service. The NHS is a national icon and is – if you believe the polls – the single most important issue on the doorstep. By committing to increase the number of nurses and decrease GP waiting times, Labour is hoping this will be the issue that convinces voters to back Ed Miliband.
Without doubt, a flourishing economy which leads to more jobs and higher wages is a key part to the future prosperity of the country. The state of our healthcare system is also extremely important. But part of the problem for Cameron and Miliband is that neither leader has quite understood what prosperity means to people.
That is why the Legatum Institute asked leading pollsters YouGov to ask the public what prosperity means to them. The results that are published today are startling and could go some way in explaining why neither of the main political parties will be able to win a majority in two weeks.
Firstly, it is clear that the British public do not think economic growth is the be all and end all to a prosperous nation. Nearly half of people questioned (forty-five per cent) think public safety is more important than GDP. Only eight per cent of people – and remember this is a poll of 2,000 people of different ages, income groups, and voting intentions – think a stronger economy is more important than feeling safe. Yet crime, personal safety and security have barely featured in this election campaign.
The same is true of education. Forty-one per cent of voters think that a good quality education system is more important than economic growth in determining the UK’s future prosperity. Interestingly, there is a big gap here between the views of Conservative and Labour voters. Only a quarter of Conservative voters say that the quality of the education system is more important than economic growth, compared to fifty-five per cent of Labour voters.
The poll also found that fifty-one per cent of people thought the ability to start your own business was more important to the prosperity of the nation than economic growth. The numbers rose to fifty-seven per cent when you look at how would-be Conservatives answered the question. There is little doubt that the Conservatives have made a lot of noise when it comes to their record on job creation – two million new private sector jobs is a fantastic achievement – but the public want to know how a future government will enable people across the country to become their own bosses. The long term economic plan aside, we haven’t heard a huge amount of detail when it comes to encouraging a new generation of entrepreneurs.
The results of the Legatum Institute survey should provide food for thought to all of the main parties in this election. Voters of all stripes want to hear about more than the economy. They want a positive vision of how schools and hospitals will help shape our country’s future prosperity. They want a government that will prioritise public safety and encourage aspiring entrepreneurs.
With most opinion polls showing a deadlock between Labour and Conservative and with only two weeks to go until the nation votes, time is running out for either of the major parties to distinguish itself from the other. Maybe, just maybe, a change of tactic is required – one that takes account of how the electorate defines prosperity. This could determine whether it’s Cameron or Miliband who is given the keys to Number 10 on the morning of 8th May.