As you may have heard by now, Millennial Millie is the latest archetypal swing voter — and supposedly the key to the outcome of the next general election.
Described in the pages of The Spectator this week, Millie is aged between 26 and 35, a middle-class renter from the Home Counties who likes sustainable fashion and Dolly Alderton. The daughter of Conservative-voting parents, she is now increasingly likely to vote for Keir Starmer, with “his faintly Bridget Jones energy”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this new hypothetical voter has already had to endure more than her fair share of mockery.
Such characters serve many purposes. The most obvious is that they imbue dry psephological analysis with human interest. Further, by attaching a catchy name to a splurge of socio-economic data they make life easier for easily distracted journalists. Hence, the undue attention paid over the years to literal non-persons like Mondeo Man, Worcester Woman and the rest.
Mondeo Man, now invoked less frequently than he once was, can be thought of as Deano‘s dad. Back in the day, he typified the aspirational lower middle-class males who stuck by John Major in 1992, but switched to Tony Blair in 1997. Meanwhile, Worcester Woman was a working-class mum with little patience for politics, but who voted for Blair, too — thus adding her Midlands hometown to New Labour’s stonking majority.
Rather less influential were the Pebbledash People identified by the Tories under William Hague. Numbering in their millions, supposedly, they were billed as the key to a Conservative comeback. However, they didn’t swing the 2001 general election, when the Tories made a net gain of just one seat.
In reality, none of these archetypes make much of a difference. They’re just labels which allow pollsters, campaign consultants and other members of the communications class to claim credit for voter movements that were going to happen anyway. The main impact is that the invention of voter archetypes cements the power of the communications class over politics.
Tony Benn always used to complain that the media focused on personalities instead of issues. But at least the personalities he had in mind were politicians — some of whom have the power to effect change. The trouble with Millennial Millie and her ilk is that they personalise the electorate — and not in a good way.
For instance, if poor Millie can’t afford to become a home owner, then reducing the dysfunction in the housing market to a human interest story encourages a correspondingly trivial political response. Instead of calling in policymakers to sort out the ultimate causes of the crisis, our leaders turn to political insiders and ask how Millie can be made to feel better about her situation. That’s how we end up with quick-fix, feel-good policies like Help to Buy — instead of the deep, structural change that this country so desperately needs.
The truth is that voter archetypes don’t represent voters at all. They’re just puppets in a show where the wrong people are pulling the strings.