Politicians have forgotten what people care about, say leading Labour and Tory thinkers

Say it quietly, but yesterday there was a public debate between a Conservative and a Labour politicial thinker - and they barely disagreed on anything.

Tim Montgomerie and Maurice Glasman are not cut from the same political cloth. Lord Glasman is currently helping write Labour's manifesto, while Montgomerie was once described as 'one of the most influential Tories outside the cabinet.' But both are frustrated, each saying their party has lost its vision. 'We've lost a general sense of what is wrong, and what to do about it,' complained Glasman about Labour. 'We don't hear the Conservatives' story of the good life,' said Montgomerie, 'Do they just want a bigger economy?'

Glasman and Montgomerie were ostensibly debating which party stands for the poorest, but the issue goes to the heart of their shared concern: politics has forgotten the centrality of family and relationships. Politics is currently dominated, said Montgomerie, 'by two materialist ideologies, rather than relational ideologies.' 'Human nature is a longing to connect,' said Glasman, 'to be good means to be aware of other people...coming together to help one another.' But Labour is still too individualistic, he says.

Their explanations for these failings were familiar but telling: pragmatism and pessimism. Tim Montgomerie recalled Michael Gove's recent speech, which called for Conservatives to be 'warriors of the dispossessed' and to view the state as 'a great emancipator.' That didn't go down too well, he says, with a certain Australian at 10 Downing Street (Lyndon Crosby, the Conservative's election campaign guru). Crosby wants the Conservatives to keep pragmatically and ruthlessly to the script: Cameron's competence over Miliband's chaos; a long-term economic plan to get the deficit down. Nothing more. The problem is, says Montgomerie, no-one in the party can challenge him because, unlike Crosby, none of them has won an election in the past 23 years.

For Glasman, the Labour party, like voters, is infected with pessimism. 'There is a loss of a sense there is something better: that there is something good that is worth sacrificing for, that is worth working together for.'

Even the rise of UKIP, Montgomerie argues, is less to to with the EU than with Labour and Conservative parties focusing blinkeredly on floating middle class voters. The voters they took for granted - socially conservative Tories and working class Labour - find themselves unable to recognise their parties, and have turned to UKIP, who are gaining a huge base among the dispossessed in northern cities.

Politicians have forgotten what people care about, says Glasman. He recalled his struggles to train Labour campaigners, who would listen to people's concerns 'for an average of 6 seconds' before then presuming to 'tell them what they actually cared about.' His own research shows that people care first about supporting their family, then about the place they live, and then about their job. But as parties have forgotten this, he says, 'people don't feel supported by either party in their struggles to support their loved ones and support their country.'

Montgomerie argued that families and civil society have to be put back at the heart of policy, especially in tackling inequality. Housebuilding needs to rocket (which Montgomerie sees as the first way to support families). Add in his emphasis on job creation (one area where he was fulsome in his praise of the Government) and his priorities suddenly look a lot like Glasman's 'family, place and jobs'.

But both admit their parties are not there yet. Montgomerie even claimed that Conservative MPs aren't talking about family policy this election 'because they are embarrassed about the lack of progress' made by this Government on family policy. Asked if Labour can be considered the party of the family, Glasman reluctantly admitted 'not yet.' Through his fights around the drafting of the Labour election manifesto, Glasman said he sees that there is still a struggle in the party over 'whether the ultimate unit is just the individual, cut from their relationships.'

It's a common complaint that you can't tell the difference between the two major parties, because each appears to stand for so little. If these two have their way, then people might still struggle to tell the difference - at least between the parties' visions - but for very different reasons. This election may be a bit soon to see the changes they want, but as Glasman said: 'the election is just a minor episode in a very long story that will go on.'