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Selling anti-obesity measures to a tough crowd

1:14 am, 24th June 2018

It draws in poverty, the public good, individual freedoms, a fear of a nanny state, and is part of what is said to be a £27bn problem for UK PLC.

But the policy launch to stop youngsters putting on so much weight – the second in less than two years – is part of a new effort by the government to engage voters on domestic issues that deeply affect their lives.

Last week it was NHS funding, this week it’s family health; both are issues that most of us care about and which touch us on an emotional level.

And if that sounds like something out of a textbook on connecting with voters, that’s because it is: specifically ‘The New Working Class: how to win hearts, minds and votes’ by Claire Ainsley from progressive think-tank the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Her book amplifies research by right-of-centre think-tank Policy Exchange which identifies family, fairness, hard work and decency as the four key themes that voters in marginal seats say best describe their own values.

Ainsley extrapolates this to the majority of voters – the low and middle income voters she calls the new working class – and argues that pushing those four buttons on issues that people care about can create a new politics that will engage and motivate people to vote.

If this all seems a bit esoteric, here are some word searches: “fair/fairness/fairer” appeared in Theresa May’s speech launching her NHS funding pledge a week ago five times; “family” appears seven times in Jeremy Hunt’s press release launching the (second) obesity policy, and there are 12 mentions of “parent”. And who can say how many times they’ve heard the phrase “hard working families”?

Family, fairness, hard work and decency are the magic words that can trigger an emotional response and engage us to support a well-argued policy.

You might not have heard it here first, but you can be sure you will hear those words again. And again.