The election approaches and nobody is sure of its result. What is certain is that success or failure for any party is more likely than ever to hinge on winning the support of small groups of voters - swing voters. But there may be more of these groups than politicians have so far reckoned.
For several decades there has been a fairly consistent picture of who the swing voters are, and how to win their support. Swing voters are those who are in the middle - the median earners - and the job of politicians in power is to pander to them; and the job of those out of power is to flatter them. The rhetoric of the 'squeezed middle' tells us, not that the middle are squeezed, but that in a time of crisis, nothing is more comforting than to hear the powerful tell you that you are an innocent victim and and that the powerful will take care of you.
This pandering to the middle is such a severe problem in the UK that you might call us a medianocracy - Government acting in the interests of the middle. This is very obvious when you examine the latest analysis of the impact of tax and benefit changes on different households by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. In the graph above I have compared their figures with the post-tax income of household in 2009-10. The result shows you how severely Government has attacked the poorest - the poorer you are the harder you're hit. The poorest 10% have lost over 9% of their post-tax income - down from an already measly £5,000 per year.
It is only the middle-income and better-off who have benefited from this Government, and if you were to add to this the enormous mortgage subsidy that is implicit in the Bank of England's interest rate - then we can see that the Government has super-charged injustice. This rhetoric of pandering to the middle has also been combined with a rhetorical strategy of stigmatising and blaming the poor, and other minority groups, including immigrants, refugees and disabled people (the very groups who did not over-borrow and bankrupt the banks). So, we not only steal from the poor, but we add insult to injury by blaming them for our theft.
But we are now entering a time when the medianocracy may be starting to fragment. In a two party system Left and Right rely on the complacency of their core vote - whose interests they must quietly sacrifice to the middle. But there are limits to this process. Increasingly key groups are deserting the mainstream parties and new swing voters are emerging.
One of the new swing voter groups could be people with learning disabilities and their families. There are 300,000 people with severe learning disabilities, perhaps 1 million people if we use a broader definition. Together with their families, friends and allies this is a total group of up to 5 million - nearly 10% of the vote in England. Certainly enough to overturn a majority in most constituencies up and down the country.
Of course, this group is, so far, not an organised political group. But things are beginning to change. This week Learning Disability Alliance England, announced in Westminster the results of its survey of Government policy. 2,000 disabled people, families and others had completed a survey reviewing all the areas that impact on people's lives. The results were striking, for example 83% said income or taxes were worse for people with learning disabilities - 69% said a lot worse. 80% said family life was worse, 61% said a lot worse. In every one, of 12 different areas, the Government was judged to have failed. The overall score for the Government was 2 out of 10.
In April a panel of people with learning disabilities and families will review the policies of the political parties and then they will determine which party is going to stand up for people the best. There will then be great efforts to encourage people to use their vote and to use it wisely. These are signs of a group that is beginning to find itself and begin the process of exercising political influence.
Learning Disability Alliance England represents a minority group that has been under attack, but which aims to promote social justice for the benefit of everyone. Unfortunately other swing voter groups, more negative groups, may also emerge. History teaches us that it is easier to unite people through hatred and scapegoating than by appeals to justice and unity. Groups that appeal to race hatred, xenophobia and fear often quickly garner support, even from amongst the oppressed themselves.
Politicians who want to protect and support that which is best about our country need to help people reconnect with our sense of fairness and our desire to live in a decent community that welcomes all human beings, in all their diversity. Citizens, who want to live as citizens, not as pawns of the powerful, will need to find new ways to organise, to connect and to safeguard their freedoms and their communities in order to work together to build a fair society.