The general election is still months away and yet it’s not hard to imagine many people are already fed up with the political campaigning. The outcome of the ballot appears to be the one of the most difficult to predict in decades. And for similar reasons it may well produce a worryingly low turnout.
Voters seem uninspired by political leaders, unable to discern real differences between the major parties and unwilling to believe politicians will keep their promises once in office, especially in an era of coalition compromises.
It doesn’t help that in many areas it’s not clear what the parties’ policies actually are. Of course, all politicians are constrained in what they can offer by the public mood towards the deficit, but – whether due to a lack of ideas, a fear of rocking the boat or a simple publicity failure – it would be difficult for most voters to think of many specific plans that set any of the three Westminster parties apart.
Specific ideas to boost recruitment are rare
And while there are plenty of things that UKIP is obviously against, how many things (apart from grammar schools) could most people name that the “outsider” party are for?
When it comes to the issues facing engineering we’re in nearly complete darkness. We’ve spent the last five years hearing from all sides about the importance of rebalancing the economy towards manufacturing yet little is said about how we might actually help improve business access to finance or manage energy costs, for example.
Industry’s recruitment difficulties are well known and there has been a renewed interest from all sides in vocational training. But specific solutions to ensure young people receive the right training for the jobs available are rare.
And despite repeated commitment to technology and innovation as a route to a stronger economy and a better society, the UK’s relatively small spend on R&D (by government and business) is routinely ignored by politicians and ideas of how we increase it are virtually non-existent.
None of these problems have easy answers but that’s precisely why we need to develop and debate new ideas. That’s how and why democracy is supposed to work.
Engineering issues are never going to be at the top of the political agenda, but they should form a key part of any political party’s economic strategy, and therefore all voters, not just those with a direct and active interest in industry, should be given the chance to engage with them.