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Farage: is this what we really really want?

George Osborne's popularity bounced when he announced reforms on pension plans

May 20, 2014 | By:

The divisive UKIP are in the spotlight for this Thursday's elections. But, asks Hamish McRae, does this actually reflect the state of politics? And what are the issues affecting voters our age?

European elections_Nigel Farage UKIP poster 620 Corbis 42-58493730What do we want from politics? There are European and council elections this week and, to judge by the polls, the nation seems likely to put UKIP near the top of its list.

Since 50-somethings  are more likely to vote than younger age groups, we may well help UKIP towards the top of the table. But beware wider conclusions: the European elections may simply be a license to misbehave, and older voters can be just as glad to have that opportunity as our younger counterparts.

The results will be interesting but they may not tell us much about what the electorate really wants.

Older voters matter disproportionately in economic terms because we have so much more discretionary spending power. But we also matter in political terms, thanks to our higher propensity to turn up at polling stations.

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You can see the fear that both major parties have of offending their elders. In, for example, the commitment to maintain or increase state pensions and the hesitation of taking away goodies such as free bus passes. 

But there is a massive difference between retired older voters and those who feel – and are – far from retirement. This latter group represents a huge and largely untapped opportunity for politicians.

Consider this: more businesses are started by over-50s than by any other age group. Or this: there was a bounce in popularity for George Osborne when he announced reforms on pension plans, giving freedom for people not to have to buy an annuity and do what they like with their pension pot. With a unanimity rare in politics, this was immediately supported by the Opposition.

Yet while politicians of both parties are seeking to attract the support of the aspirational young, they have put much less into the still-aspirational older voters.

So what do we want? Here is my checklist of half a dozen items (and you’ll note that they are broadly in the national interest, too).

One Reward savers. The country needs more savings. This is the time when people can set aside funds from discretionary income. Near-zero interest rates are not a popular policy for us, whatever their economic rationale.

Two Clear the barriers to the setting up of businesses, and more importantly, to small businesses that can employ people. Most businesses are formed and run by sole proprietors.

Three Encourage self-employment and part-time employment. At this stage of our careers, many people have become portfolio workers, working for a variety of clients rather than drawing a salary.

Four Ensure stability in pension legislation. This has been chopped and changed by successive governments – and often by the same government – over the past two decades. But people have to plan in an orderly way to build what is our biggest or second biggest asset along with our principal home.

Five Deliver efficiency. All voters want more competent government, but older voters have often run an organisation ourselves and are likely to be both more critical of waste but also more supportive when we see jobs done well.  

Finally, don’t make the same mistakes as governments of 20 years earlier. Generation high50 is older than most of the current cabinet. Why make old and boring mistakes when there are so many new and interesting ones to make instead?