The terrible truth about the 2017 election is that Mumsnet users initially struggled to care. After the 2015 election and the 2016 referendum, they took a pretty jaundiced view about enduring another campaign; in a survey of over 2300 users last month, only 25% said they thought it was right to call this election now. Despite this, though, they’re determined to exercise their right to vote – 92% said they would definitely be going to the polling station in June – and have been paying close attention to our pre-election politics webchats. Our recent webchat with Jeremy Corbyn prompted many hundreds of user questions about the Labour manifesto.
Corbyn’s visit, coming as it did on the day he launched a new childcare policy, illustrated one of our users’ common gripes: that politicians tend to approach them as ‘mothers’ and ‘women’, rather than as fully rounded voters. Our webchats are always full of questions about fiscal policy, payments for people with disabilities, the state of public services and the future of the UK; but webchat guests repeatedly make the error of anticipating queries solely about maternity leave and childcare, forgetting that parents are a very diverse bunch.
Of course, many of the mums and dads on Mumsnet do view their political choices at least partly through the prism of parenthood: it’s just that the nature of their concerns aren’t always what the politicians expect. There’s a deep concern about air quality, especially among those who live in towns and cities, because our users see the immediate effects on their children. Education ranks particularly highly: 73% of our users say it will be important to their voting choice, compared with 17% of the general population (Panelbase, May 2017). Their children – of all abilities – use the nation’s schools, and they’re less enamoured than older voters with the idea of new grammars (with 60% opposing). As people who know what their children will and will not happily eat, they’re also sceptical about the value of universal free school meals (33% in favour); they tend to conclude that resources should be focused on those who really need them.
On a similar theme, they’re divided on the value of retaining the universal triple lock for pensioners (with 53% supporting the lock, as against 62% cited by YouGov in 2017) – but when it comes to Labour’s proposal of increasing the Carer’s Allowance by £10 per week, Mumsnet users are massively in favour (76%). Many are carers for children with additional needs, or are beginning to think about the care their own parents will need in later life, and the costs and difficulties encountered by carers loom large.
To outsiders, then, it might seem odd that Mumsnetters were largely unmoved by Theresa May’s big wobble over the ‘dementia tax’; as a topic of conversation on our forums, it barely registered. But our users are cynical about political storms; Westminster bubble hyperbole and the daily grind of ‘talking points’ doesn’t fly. They’re frustrated by what they see as the long-term failures of the governing class: on social care, on housing and on the environment, their scorn for party political point-scoring is allied with their anger at the absence of effective action. Whether they support or oppose Brexit, they’re slightly despairing about the absence of substantive electoral debate about the implications. When asked how they rated the main party leaders across the UK, none did well among a majority of users. After all, when you’re raising children, building a career and trying to map out a route towards health and happiness for everyone you care about, politics isn’t a game. Happily for us though, it’s always a talking point.