Inequality vs the Economy: The Electorate’s Choice

31 Mar 2015

David Cameron and Ed Miliband both seek to emerge as Prime Minister in a few weeks time. Trouble is, their core ideological roots could not be further apart. Both believe that their fundamental party values are the right direction for the country to follow in, and both consider themselves to be the only candidates capable of unveiling that path. For Miliband, in order to get Britain back to prosperity, inequality, living standards and social injustice must be prioritized before anything else. For Cameron, it’s the economy that matters most, no matter how tough the welfare budget gets. Living standards can only improve under a growing economy, the Tories stress. For the Conservatives at least, financial growth is the only way to safeguard Britain’s interests.


So the electorate has a choice: tackle inequality under the direction of a Labour government, or stay on track with the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan. If you’re living in the margins, say, in a small northern suburb and are working on a zero-hour contract, chances are you’ll be voting Labour in a few weeks time. Whereas, if you’re living in Surrey, are financially stable and working in the city, you’re perhaps more likely to be voting Tory. The problem for the Conservatives, however, is that for the person working unpredictable hours and experiencing the lowest possible living conditions, they do not believe that the Tory elite truly know what life is like in their shoes. This issue came up in the recent leaders interviews with Jeremy Paxman last week where the prime minister was asked whether he could live on a zero-hour contact. Cameron admitted that he couldn’t, but he was quick to state that only 1 in 50 jobs currently use such a scheme. What about food banks? Did he know how many are currently in operation around Britain? He didn’t, though he was aware that the number had increased under his watch. When asked where welfare cuts would hit if he wins a second term, the PM appeared reluctant to let on. “Do you know and you’re just not telling us or do you not know?” Paxman quizzed. Avoiding an answer, Cameron said that he knew there would be difficult decisions to make on welfare, but leaked documents last week appeared to demonstrate where welfare cuts could fall if the Conservatives were to hold power for a second term, so perhaps he did know after all.


At the Labour party conference last year giving one of his most important speeches before the general election, Miliband was criticised for forgetting to mention the deficit. Perhaps the most pressing issue that the next government will have to tackle was completely left out from his address. However, Labour do realise the importance of the economy in restoring our financial prosperity, it’s just that they have different ideas about how to go about it. Labour seek to halt the ‘cost of living’ crisis which, despite improvements under the Conservatives, has not quite made a difference to all family households. During his inquisition with Paxman, Miliband appeared happy to admit that Labour had got it wrong on immigration figures in the past, though any comment on how his party would cut the deficit was largely glossed over. On mansion tax, the Labour leader tried to assure that it did not involve taking money from the South and giving it all to Scotland. "Shall I explain?" he asked, "Do! Please!" cried Paxman. As with Cameron, details on where welfare cuts would fall under a Labour government were brushed aside, though he did confirm that he too could not live on a zero-hour contract, stressing that it was unacceptable that 1 in 50 jobs were based in such a scheme.


Despite the interest in the Paxman one-on-ones, it is unlikely that their outcome will be a real game-changer for the election. No new policy was revealed from either Cameron or Miliband whilst they were in the chair, and so if the electorate is still undecided, it will be a question of whether their priorities lie in rebuilding broken Britain from a lifestyle point of view or from an economic one. That said, a YouGov/Sunday Times poll taken after the Paxman showdowns gave Labour a four-point lead ahead of the Conservatives at 36%, against the Tories’ 32%. It’s significant, but again, unlikely to be the result of the interviews given that both leaders struggled against Paxo’s might. With just weeks to go before Britain heads to the polls, time is running out for Cameron and Miliband to swing voters their way. However, most know the choice on offer to them come May 7th: inequality first and the economy second, or vice versa? It’s your choice.

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