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March 01, 2007

Devon Pensioners and the Political Process

Posted by Jeremy Black

Council tax increases have led a record number of pensioners to threaten to strike. What is interesting is that they are largely disengaged from the political process apart from in the sense of a direct response of the type they envisage. They have the energy and time to take part in influencing conventional politics, but apparently not the inclination. In Devon, such politics are worthwhile. There are seats held by all three of the major political parties, there are marginals held by all three, and it is possible therefore to focus on trying to affect the electoral politics of both country and county.

The drift toward single-issue politics, however, very much cuts in a different direction. It can be seen as a malaise that is a reflection of disenchantment with politics, much of which, over the last decade, is an aspect of the failure of New Labour and, to a lesser extent, the Liberal Democrats.

At the same time, this process is a challenge for politicians, both to get partisan advantage from particular discontents and also to tackle the problems created by disenchantment. As far as the pensioners are concerned, many are better off than young couples trying to get started, afford houses, and raise children, but in the obsessively self-referential world in which they discuss their grievances, it is difficult to expect such a capacity for empathy from them.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter.

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