Cameron targets pensioners to make gains on the Liberal Democrats whilst hoping to retain Conservative marginals.
In the race to power, politicians know that they cannot ignore the 11 million plus pensioners living in the UK. As the graph below shows, in every general election since 1964, the over 65s’ turnout has been far greater than the under 25s in percentage terms and, due to demographic shifts, in real terms as well.
The Conservative party have not missed this. David Cameron has pledged that he will protect the benefits pensioners currently enjoy including the winter fuel allowance, TV licences, free bus passes, eye tests and, perhaps most importantly, prescriptions , should he be returned to No.10. This pledge comes in the wake of the introduction of high interest bonds for over 65s and the government’s commitment to the ‘triple lock’ on the state pension so that it increases by at least 2.5 percent every year. These policies will not only appeal to the over 65s but also those nearing retirement as they will be guaranteed these privileges for the next 5 years, providing some stability for their household budgeting.
However, these policies have not come without opposition. Rachel Reeves of the Labour Party said, ‘As part of our plan to get the deficit down in a fairer way, we will stop paying the winter fuel allowance to the richest five percent of pensioners and reverse David Cameron’s tax cuts for millionaires. Accusations that we will end pensioner’s benefits are simply untrue’. Liberal Democrat Pensions Minister Steve Webb said, ‘The working age poor will pay the price for the Conservative ring fence for the very wealthiest of pensioners’.
So will courting the elderly translate into Conservative seats?
There are eighteen seats the Conservatives are specifically targeting with a large over-65s population (20%+). Fourteen of these are Liberal Democrat and polling indicates that it is likely the Conservatives will win ten of these, and it will be a close call for another three. Additionally, polling indicates that Labour will gain Eastbourne from the Liberal Democrats and more than likely retain Vale of Clwyd, Gower, North East Derbyshire and Wirral South.
There also are nine Conservative marginal seats with high pensioner populations that Cameron will be looking to retain. Four of these look to be safe, but in Stroud, Morecombe & Lunesdale, Warwickshire North, Montgomeryshire and Waveney retention hangs in the balance. With Cameron’s pledges, Conservatives will hope that by appealing to Liberal-leaning pensioners and those who have voted Tory in the past in marginal seats, they can produce a decisive combination of retention and gains.
It is in these seats that the election will be won or lost; as a result, offering policies that appeal to pensioners is a political necessity for any party that’s serious about winning in May.