Lidl 25

As the General Election looms, pollsters have found a new peg on which to hang the outcome.

The new swing voters – replacing ‘white van man’, ‘Mondeo man’, ‘Romford’ man, ‘Worcester Woman’ – are the ‘Lidl people’.

The currency of this phrase has grown with every week, capturing the imagination of the political classes with its neat encapsulation of two prevailing trends: the disenchantment of voters/shoppers with the establishment, ie political parties and the big four supermarkets.

Accordingly, goes the neat analogy, just as voters are switching to UKIP, shoppers are switching to Lidl.

And this week YouGov unveiled research (as reported in The Sun) showing that Lidl shoppers are indeed the ultimate split vote: 29% intended to vote Tory; 29% will vote Labour. Only Morrisons was as divided.

But something has been bothering me ever since the term ‘Lidl people’ trickled into our collective consciousness. I worked it out the other day.

Basically, it’s just not a very good metaphor.

Here’s where the analogy falls down. I have to eat. I don’t have to vote.

Of course, the serious market foothold of the discounters (it seems a disservice to Aldi to call their shoppers Lidl people) was first established during a period of great economic stress.

And it’s certainly true that, in a downturn, voters flee to the less traditional parties. And that’s pretty much where the appropriateness of this analogy ends.

The most striking quote in The Sun’s long profile of discounter voters is a Labour voter who switched her shop to Lidl and is thinking of switching her vote to UKIP.

“Whatever you vote for doesn’t happen anyway,” she says. The journalist even notes she appears to be “demoralised”, and will only vote for UKIP “if she votes at all”.

On the other hand, when asked for her opinion of shopping at the discounters, the voter suggests Aldi and Lidl are “good quality”.

The difference in the two views is immediately apparent;: the discounter has secured her support for positive reasons (quality, value), the other (UKIP) for negative reasons.

While the discounter offers something the voter needs to survive, but at an acceptable quality and a price that allows greater freedom to maintain social status in a difficult times, the political system has lost her custom because of disillusionment rather than a “better deal”. The discounter voter is more likely to just leave the political marketplace altogether, casting either a protest vote or failing to vote.

So: protesting the prices of the big grocers by refusing to eat doesn’t add up. Taking my business elsewhere, where I still need to obtain a standard of living that has a direct effect on my life, isn’t the same thing as casting a protest vote to no real appreciable outcome.

In one case, the consumer has received a measurable benefit. In the other, they’re removed themselves from the marketplace and not received a reward for doing so.

It’s not hard to figure out which is which in this analogy.

It’s far more illustrative to suggest the rise of the SNP, UKIP, Greens, Plaid Cymru and the DUP comes from two simpler sources.

First, the total collapse in support for the Lib Dems following their decision to form a coalition government with the Tories (in which they held very little power but which has hugely eroded their traditional support). The latest Ashcroft poll puts the Lib Dems on 5% of the vote, 10% behind UKIP and 3% behind the Greens. The Conservatives are only down 2% on their 2010 result, and Labour up just 1%.

Second, the rise in Scottish nationalism could see the SNP almost eradicate Labour in Scotland, a result which would wipe out any gains Labour might have expected to make as the main opposition party during a period of economic uncertainty.

In comparison, the grocery picture is still tilted towards the big boys.

Aldi and Lidl’s combined market share stands at 8.5%, according to the latest figures from Kantar Worldpanel. UKIP’s share is 15%.

The big four’s share is 73.5%. While shoppers might be looking for a better deal, they can’t resist the big four. That’s way weightier than the 64% of the “big two” established Westminster parties.

Interestingly, the one area where a comparison could be made - and where the media has failed to spot the similarities – is in how the big players can win consumers back.

As the Kantar figures show, Tesco is starting to turn it around, and it’s doing it by focusing on core values, stripping back SKUs to focus consumer choice and reducing prices to a greater degree on a smaller number of the biggest brands.

In other words: Less is More.

One reason voters are concerned is that there’s a lack of consistency and delineation between the two major parties – both are in vote grab mode, not classic voter base mode. Some might argue politics has become more complex than left vs. right, Labour vs. Conservatives. I’d argue it’s only become that way because the main parties let it be.

By trying to please everyone, they’ve eradicated the differences that made people feel passionately about them in the first place.

Flailing around trying to cater to the “Lidl people” would be just another tilt at a windmill, a damagingly narrow focus in an area that needs to be addressed more broadly. Doing anything they can to woo voters, no matter the ideological basis of the policy, is the equivalent of a scattergun price bazooka – a piecemeal message in a marketplace that operates best in black and white, no matter how grey the issue may be.

Like the major parties, the big four would do well to think about what made them dominant in the first place, rather than trying to cater to the everyman. 

Or, as they are now known, the Lidl people.