Centre for Policy Studies 1900 Club Lecture by Rt Hon Rob Halfon MP – Full Text

Our Honorary President recently delivered the 1900 Club Lecture to the Centre for Policy Studies. The link to his speech is here or you can read the full text of his speech.

Harlow and Workers

It is good to be here this evening.

I am here not just because of my long friendship with Howard Flight – he is even a patron of Harlow Conservatives, but because I feel I am amongst friends.

If any one wonders what has shaped my politics in recent years, it is Harlow.  It is a wonderful place where I have made my home since 2000 and fought five General Elections since being selected as a candidate.

But it can be tough too.

Not so long ago, a woman came up to me when I was handing out leaflets outside Tesco.  She said to me:

Oh Mr Halfon, I have to say, I have had one of your leaflets through my letter box.  

How handsome you appeared.  But, I have to say you look bloody awful in real life!”

The truth is that Harlow has reshaped my Conservatism; a New Town in Essex with the Tory virtues of aspiration, opportunity, the ethics of individual effort, hard work, the genius and entrepreneurialism of small businesses and the self employed. It is a place of patriotism and tradition and of Brexit too.  In essence, it is the home of White Van Conservatism.

But Harlow is also a place of community and of economic struggle too. It is a new Town originally built so that people from the East of London could build better lives.  It is a town where there is significant deprivation – low economic capital but high levels of social capital, where people who do the right thing still struggle to keep their heads above water, and both spouses or partners are working day and night, often on low pay. They live in housing that should be of higher quality.

These men and women need and deserve a better standard of living – but they want something else too: welfare services that work.

So, they know that if their family fall ill they will be looked after by the NHS, that their grandparents will be able to afford their winter fuel bills, that when they walk home from the bus or train station they will be free from anti-social behaviour or worse.  That they have a real chance to live in quality housing – whether it is social housing or right to buy.  That they will be able to go to a local school of their choice, providing a decent school for their children with free school meals, or that their son or daughter will be able to do a quality Apprenticeship, or go to University without facing mountains of debts.

They are also compassionate towards others, often involved in a range of community groups, whether it be the local scouts or neighbourhood organisations. They believe that the welfare state should, on the one side, truly incentivise work and stop dependency and, on the other, be truly compassionate to the most vulnerable, especially the disabled and elderly. not treating millions of people like digits on a computer.

None of this is rocket science, yet is so often forgotten by our party and our government.  I call all of this practical Workers Conservatism, where social and economic capital go hand in hand.

 

The intellectuals and technocrats

On the one side, many Tories are working out the intellectual basis of free markets and capitalism and forget how Conservatism must practically apply to real people, leading real lives. I am always amazed when I hear of those talking abstractly about the merits of capitalism, totally removed from the lives of most of our fellow countrymen and women. For example, those who say the promotion of social housing is wrong despite one in four families not even having £95 in savings, with monthly net earnings of less than £1,500 a month.

On the other, our party offers one technocratic ‘solution’ after another, devoid of human understanding or without any emotional connection; a series of clothes pegs without any washing line.

No narrative, no explanation, no reasoning and no relation to the lives of millions of workers.

Take the example of Universal Credit, a potentially good reform. This is rolled out with little explanation or narrative behind it and implemented in such a way that this reform is seen as a ‘cut’ because ‘the computer says no’’ to people who are just digits on a machine, ignoring the hardship through the six-week period it takes to receive the first payment.  Or ‘the bedroom tax’, named as such because the Government, instead of setting out a passionate case about overcrowding and poor quality housing, and reminding Labour that they had introduced the very same policy for private tenants when they were in power, decided to call this benefit change ‘the spare room subsidy’.  In doing so, it allowed the left to claim the moral high ground, especially when exemptions for disabled people were mired in bureaucratic red tape via their local council.

Is it any wonder that the left claims the monopoly of compassion?

So, I am not here this evening to give you an intellectual basis for Capitalism.  Nor to set out detailed policy prescriptions that will allegedly win us victory.

I am here to suggest something different, to set out a whole new radical narrative and message for the Conservatives, and fundamental reform of our party that helps us reconnect emotionally and practically with the British people.

 

The problems facing Conservatives

But to solve our problems, we first need to acknowledge five truths:

  1. We have no message or narrative.  No one really understands what Conservatism is all about, except in terms of austerity, economics and Brexit.
  2. Related to our first problem. We have allowed Labour to claim the positive language of compassion. The words social justice, welfare, NHS, compassion, low pay, the poor, poverty and the underdog are all associated with the left.  I remember as a Minister I was not allowed to use the word social justice as the ‘in word’ was ‘social mobility’, which to me always sounded like a Vodafone Television advertisement.
  3. Our electoral performance has been wanting.  We have not won a healthy Conservative majority since 1987.  Even after the years of Gordon Brown, we had a coalition. After Miliband a tiny majority. After 2017, none at all.  The argument about the popular vote being the highest is illusory if we pile up votes in Epping but lose swathes of votes in Chingford, making this a marginal seat.
  4. The idea that we are winning working class votes is mixed.  Even if Conservatives won some working class seats because of Brexit, there are plenty of marginal working class seats we lost as well.

    Even if the working class voters narrative is true, who is to say they will remain Conservative next time if they feel that the party has back-slided over Brexit and the divorce bill too high?  Where is the guarantee that they will stay with the Conservatives after Brexit is completed, even if they were supportive of the deal.  Why would they not go back to Labour?

    Moreover, as pollster Peter Kellner has pointed out, our support from women has declined, especially from full time female workers and those in their thirties, many of whom work in the public services, hit by pay restraint.  We all know that our support from the younger generation is nothing short of a calamity.

  5. Not only do we have an ever declining membership but our party grassroots infrastructure is so bad that if health and safety inspections were in play, they would have closed it down a long time ago.

 

The Workers Party

Having said all of this, to paraphrase Golda Meir:

pessimism is a luxury that no Conservative can allow himself”

I do believe that there are answers to Conservatism’s revival.  But it needs radical, not incremental, change.

It does not matter whether it is Theresa May, or Mother Theresa, Boris Johnson or Boris Gudonov. Unless we make fundamental change, our party will not be able to build the foundations for future success.

We need to have narrative and a framework, and we must  have the policies that underpin it.

 

The Narrative: The Ladder of Opportunity:

First, the narrative:

In my view, there is huge potential here. I’m not a pessimist, despite everything I’ve said. In fact, I’m quite optimistic, I think we can get this right – we have to have the narrative that we are the party of the ladder of opportunity.

I believe in the power of symbols; I believe in simple messaging. It’s very easy for us to explain what that is about. That if you are on lower income, we give you the ladder to get you the skills, to get the education, jobs, security and prosperity that you need.

But this is not just a ladder by itself, it’s a ladder that is grafted by government, it is a ladder that the people are brought to by government, it’s a ladder that has a social ambulance always there at the bottom, ready if people fall off. It’s a ladder that has hands around it, to help people every step of the way.

 

The Workers Party:

Second, that ladder of opportunity is all about Conservatives being, what I call, the true Workers Party.  I believe that we need a fundamental re-brand. The Conservative name is so tarnished and so misrepresented that we need a simple way of explaining to everyone what we are about and that we are on their side.

I also have a vision that our party will actually be not just a Workers party but a real modern Workers’ trade Union movement for the British people.

Now let me go through how I think that pans out. Trade unions have five key roles:

The first is ensuring that workers have skills and jobs.

The second is about workers’ wages.

The third is about workers’ rights.

The fourth is about workers’ welfare.

And the fifth is about workers’ services.

So I think that what we need to do as a party when we say that we’re the party of the ladder, the ladder of opportunity, that we are the Workers’ Party. We need to have our own workers’ charter embodying workers’ skills, workers’ rights, workers’ welfare, workers’ services. That involves our party too.

Let me go into those, bit by bit.

Workers Skills and Jobs

Workers Skills and Jobs must be about our apprenticeship and skills offering, guaranteeing to every young person that Conservatives will offer a quality apprenticeship from 16 years onwards, from Level 2 right up to degree apprenticeships, remembering that ninety percent of apprentices get jobs or further training at the end.

Whilst we can never match Jeremy Corbyn on Tuition Fees, we should show young people the advantages of doing a funded, paid, high quality technical apprenticeship over an expensive, and all-too often low quality degree, many of which result in poor wages after graduation. This would be an important way to show young people that Conservatives are on their side, and that there is a world of opportunity open to them.

This is what we could frame as part of our workers’ charter, developing skills, making sure that people have jobs. It is important to point out that we have more people in work than any time in our island’s history; we have more apprentices, 900,000, than in any time in our history; we have the lowest number of the so-called NEETS, the lowest number of those ‘not in employment or training or education’ on record. So why aren’t we shouting this from the rooftops?

 

Workers Wages

Rewarding workers fairly forms part of the Conservatives’ DNA, and the narrative for lower taxes too. We can convince the public about the morality of tax cuts by cutting taxes for the lower paid and by supporting and strengthening the national living wage.

Tax cuts should be talked about in terms of cutting the cost of living rather than in a way which implies support for the better off over those on lower incomes.

 

Redistribution

We can convince the public about the morality of tax cuts for big business and the wealthy by becoming the party of Redistribution too.  What I mean by that is not socialist redistribution but using the extra tax revenues RAISED by cutting taxes for the rich, and using those revenues to cut taxes for the lower paid or spending it on our poorer communities.

In other words, Conservatives need to reframe the whole tax argument in terms of raising revenues, redistribution and emphasising tax cuts for those on lower incomes.  If the argument is moved from tax hikes to revenues raised, it makes it much easier to explain to the public.

Imagine if there was a special Redistribution Fund on the Conservative Party website which showed all the extra tax revenues coming in from corporation tax and the like, and how that money was being spent on the lower paid.  It would be called the Conservative Redistribution Fund. At a stroke, it would not only reclaim this important word from the left, it would make the ethical case for tax cuts as a whole.

 

Workers Rights

Workers Rights is perhaps the hardest one of these to develop for Conservatism.  The arguments over Uber and zero hours put libertarian conservatives and social justice conservatives in conflict. Uber is not part of a fair free market because black cabs do not have fair competition.  They are excessively regulated and have costs that Uber drivers do not have. Conversely, not all zero hour contracts are bad and some people want them whether they are single parents or students.  We need to develop a modern Conservative Good Work Act to resolve these issues of exploitation, of workers representation, of fair pay to guarantee fair competition, minimum standards and rights for the self-employed.

 

Workers Welfare

Workers Welfare must be an essential component of Conservatism. This includes the NHS, Social Security and Housing.

We get caught in the cycle of people thinking we just want to cut benefits.

The truth is that Tories want to reform welfare to help recipients gain independence and to get people into work. We should be proud of the money we’re spending and not be afraid to talk about this mission.

I can’t remember how many times I have been attacked politically for allegedly supporting cuts to disability spending for example.  When I point out that we have increased overall spending up to £50 billion + a year on disability welfare – amongst the highest in the world – it is just met with disbelief.

But who can blame the critics, when welfare is talked about in terms of cuts instead of the social ambulance ready at the ladder, to help those who can’t climb up, or those who fall.

Conservatives need to craft welfare in a narrative to make sure that when our welfare policies are rolled out that people understand – really understand – that we are spending money and that we are there to get people back into work, and provide high quality support to those who need it most.

The NHS

There is an umbilical cord between the British people and the NHS. Any idea of privatising it is for the birds.  But we need to give people more of a say in what kind of NHS they would like.

Given this, perhaps there should be a referendum every few years, at the time of local elections, about the level of funding for the NHS and Social care.  The best solution is to explain to the public how much it costs, depending on what level of service they require, and then decide how much they want to spend.

Housing

On housing, if we can find £10 billion from the Treasury Sofa for Help to Buy, then perhaps we can find some billions more for social housing. This could be in the form of tax incentives given to housing associations, accompanied by a dramatic liberalisation of planning. We could build hundreds of thousands of houses in which people would live for a decent length of time, before giving them a chance of right to buy, with another house being built to replace it.

Workers Services

So often, Conservatives wrongly think that retail politics is just an auction of promises that we can never win. I have never understood this view. There is nothing to stop the Government developing retail politics of our own, properly costed and thought out, in key areas of policy that are Tory in nature but help solve pressing problems.

Scrapping the hospital car parking tax is one way to show our commitment to the NHS. It would cost a relatively small amount, given the size of the NHS budget. The continued fuel duty freeze gives a signal to millions of motorists that we Conservatives are on their side. Dealing with unfair energy bills improves the cost of living for millions.

Conservatives need workers services retail politics, not to ape Labour, but because this is where the public are. In a consumerist society, the public need to have a clear choice in areas where they are aware there is a problem.

Party Reform

I said at the start that our party, too, has to radically change.  If we are to be the Conservative Workers Party, then we have to mean it.

If we are to radically reflect the way people want to join organisations nowadays, we cannot look to the old political parties and how it used to be. Our party, literally, should be a modern trade union.

Conservatives should offer insurance services for people on lower incomes. Our party should give out Fuel cards for members so they would get a discount when they go and get petrol, something many of you know I’m quite passionate about.  A bus pass, too, could be offered to young apprentices who join our party.

Tories should be offering the same things that unions offer their members so we can become a competing trade union in a Conservative way for the British people.

Those people who have a Conservative disposition can join our party knowing that they would get the same services offered by other trade unions, if not better. Then you would have thousands of people joining because we would have a government and political movement which is framing the argument in terms of us being the Workers’ Party and in terms of us being the party of the ladder of opportunity.

Party Democracy

But being a Modern Trade Union means a democratic political movement too.

A truly democratic, membership-based Conservative Workers Party would be an important step in galvanising current members and persuading existing members to join.

In practice, this would mean the whole of the Party Board, including the Chair of the National Convention, being elected by the membership, not the current system in which they are chosen by a few senior people from each association. The same would apply to the directly-affiliated organisations such as the Conservative Policy Forum. The Board could produce an annual report, just as companies do for their shareholders, which would be adopted or rejected annually by all the members through a vote.

Conference too, should be radically democratised. Our party must move away from just the Politburo-style announcements (“tractor production in the Soviet Union has gone up by 50 per cent this year”).

I remember going to conference during the time of Margaret Thatcher when motions for conference would be selected by associations and debated. The Government of the day was still able to get their core message across – and win elections.

Why not do the same now, with members voting online about which issues are chosen for debate at both the Spring and Winter Conferences? In terms of selecting parliamentary candidates, this could continue to be done through primaries (although this can offer an unfair advantage to a well connected local candidate) – or an electoral college consisting of the local association members (60 per cent), the public (20 per cent) and CCHQ representation (20 per cent).

Of course, the first objection to democratisation is to point at Corbyn’s Labour and express concerns about ‘infiltration’ or about ‘undesirables’ elected to positions. This shows a misunderstanding of what the 600,000 Labour members are all about.

But this can be easily dealt with.

The answer is simple: paying a full membership fee of £25 would give a member full participatory rights, with less expensive fees being charged for non-voting membership. There would of course be concession rates for certain groups on lower incomes, as there are at the moment. As a final check and balance, if infiltration, malpractice, reputational damage et al had occurred, the Prime Minister, Party Chairman, or the Board could have a final veto.

I know that democratisation of the Tory party is not the only solution to increasing our membership base. A proper national membership offering, rocket-boosting candidate bursaries, expenses for lower income members to get involved at senior level, a radical and simplified message and symbol (yes – the ladder of opportunity), that all Conservatives can unite behind, are just a few of things that could be done.

Millions should also be spent on a proper social media operation where so much of the political battle is now fought.

But what is the point if, when Conservatives do finally get people to join, the latter realise they have no real say in making their new party one that works for everyone?  They won’t remain members for long.

Asymmetric demobilisation

One final point before I conclude. Going on about Venezuelan socialism may delight Conservatives in the Westminster village but it means little to most ordinary voters.  Although I am a politician with a Ronseal type brain (it does what it says on the tin) and dislike political jargon, we need to do what Merkel and the CDU describe as Asymmetric demobilisation (whatever the recent result, Merkel is still the most successful Centre Right Leader of the 21st Century).  That means ignoring the opposition but taking the best parts of their policies and crafting them in a Conservative way. The aim being to deliberately lower the turnout of opposition minded floating voters.  Let the media do the rough and tumble of opposition bashing.  Every time the Conservatives engage in old fashioned opposition attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, all we do is advance their cause.

Conclusion

For the past few years, I have being going around the country speaking to Conservative Associations, saying that we were under-estimating Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, and that the 650,000 Labour members were not all Trotskyites but well-meaning individuals inspired by the romantic and noble socialist ideals of helping the underdog.

It is time for us Conservatives to develop a romantic and ethical message of our own, recognising that we need radical change if we are to inspire millions of people to vote Tory: not just with their heads because of the economy, but with their hearts too. Unless we do so, I believe that we will never get the strong majority that our country needs.

 

Our Movement is Emerging from the Party

Rob Thumbs Up 2This article from our Honorary President, Rt Hon Rob Halfon MP,  first appeared in ConservativeHome and is published here for our readers.

I remember about eighteen months ago, sitting in an extremely hot committee room, at the very end of Committee Corridor, on the top floor of Parliament.

It took me a long time to walk there from my office off Speakers Court – a bit like going from Land’s End to John O’Groats. But it was worth it.

This event was one of the first public meetings of the re-established Conservative Workers and Trade Union Movement (CWTU).

Despite having a modest attendance, there were trade union members present who got up and said “I am a member of x trade union and I am Conservative”. At times, it felt like the sketch from Little Britain – this time ‘the only trade union member in the Conservative Village’.

This meeting heralded the renewal of the CWTU. During the 1970s and 1980s, Conservative Trades Unionists (as it then was) had thousands of members and over a hundred branches. There were CTU officials at Central Office. Four thousand CTU activists turned up to a rally in Wembley Stadium to support Margaret Thatcher, holding banners entitled ‘Trade Unionists for a Conservative Victory’.

By the mid 1990s the CTU had collapsed, and its support inside Party HQ had ended. It was left to some stalwart Conservatives in the North of England to keep the flame of Conservative Workers alive.

I should also mention Richard Balfe, the former MEP and now peer, who as the Prime Minister’s trade union representative ensured that the workers and trades union voice was heard during the years of Conservative Opposition and then Coalition.

So, in 2015, after having previously written a paper for Demos called ‘‘Stop the trade union bashing’’ with a few fellow travellers – or comrades – we decided to resuscitate the CWTU.

Now called Tory Workers, it was established with the aim of reaching out to millions of Conservative-minded trade unionists; to campaign for workers policies within our party like the Living Wage, lower taxes for lower earners, apprenticeships and affordable housing; and to support white van men and women and blue collar workers.

Step forward Dr Spencer Pitfield, our director; Nick Denys, our policy guru; Richard Short (a regular writer at this parish), our deputy director; and a remarkable team alongside them who have spent the past two years (with few funds and initially little support) building Tory Workers into a movement. The dedication and effort of this team has been extraordinary. They really live up to the ‘Tory Workers’ name.

Our passion is simple – to ensure that millions of working people believe that the Conservative Party is the true workers party of Great Britain and the party of the ladder of opportunity.

We campaign around five areas: a ‘Workers Charter, encompassing workers skills and jobs; workers wages; workers welfare; workers rights; and workers services – all the while trying to develop a Conservative framework and narrative around these themes.

From that small committee room in Parliament, Tory Workers now have over 1,000 members, a strong social media presence, and a well attended Spring Conference. The past two Conservative Party Conferences have seen very successful fringe meetings as well.

But what was special about Manchester was that, for the first time, numerous party activists were randomly approaching the CTU team, asking for more information and wanting to join. The best moment was when a Manchester Conference hall staff member – who had nothing to do with the Conservatives at all, but had seen our fringe event – asked for a CWTU leaflet and suggested he wanted to join.

Slowly slowly, Tory Workers is becoming a real and valued voice in our party. If you agree with the values of Tory Workers, please join here on this website www.toryworkers.co.uk/JoinUs.

Getting Students On The Ladder Is Key To Youth Votes

ConnorConnor Short is the Youth Coordinator for the Toryworkers and a recent graduate from the University of Salford. He writes in a personal capacity based on his recent experience as a student and young graduate.

Voter turnout amongst the 18-24 age range has risen to its highest level since 1992. With Ipsos Mori claiming 62% of young voters voted Labour, but only 27% voted Conservative, now is the time to listen to students & recent graduates and seek to solve their issues with the current system. For students, there are very few intentions greater than that to establish themselves onto a career path. However, large numbers of students are leaving education with no clear direction and unsure of which ladder to step onto. So, to win over the youth vote and convince them to lend their vote to the Conservatives at the next election, we must address this key issue. To begin, we must draw school and college leavers’ attention towards all the options they can choose for their next step. For instance, thousands of pounds are being spent by each university, every year, to encourage students to join them, ahead of other options. However, in many cases, university is not the most suitable option for the student’s goals. But, they are still more likely to choose a university course because they have not been told to entertain the idea of doing an apprenticeship, a degree apprenticeship, or even jumping into a job at the lower end of their desired career. All of which, may  provide more contacts that can help kick start a career and often provide a student with greater career motivation, than the option of university.

Universities will always remain to be a very good option to extend education for many students. However, more regulation needs to be introduced. From my own experience, a cap on the number of students each course can accept each year, would be massively beneficial. I continue to hold a strong belief that my tuition, during my time at university, suffered due to the overwhelmingly excessive quantity of students on my course (Estimated at over 200 on a single course, in a single year). Many of whom dropped out or left for a different course, citing the lack of care and tuition they received.

The one time I had access to a personal tutor, I was told “don’t get a job, you’re on a full-time course”. Those words rang clearly for the remainder of my time as a student. And, therefore, provided a problematic knock-on effect when it came to using my contacts to get onto a solid career path. It is this experience that convinces me that we need to re-define what a full-time course means. We must push universities to be clear that full-time courses should be attended alongside efforts to establish a career, rather than instead of it.

Apart from that one moment of terrible advice, I did feel like a personal tutor helped me on my course. I would even go as far as saying we need to introduce Personal Career Tutors to everyone over the age of 16 and integrate the National Careers Service more closely with further and higher education. These tutors would provide a one-to-one meeting with each current/former student every six months to provide them with clear, personal advice for how they can progress their career over the next six months. These should continue beyond education, until the former
student reaches a salary threshold and gets settled into a career, similar to the model used for student loan repayments. With students being nurtured into achieving a salary above the threshold for student loan repayments, we can expect more former students to repay more of their student loans. Of course, I understand some former students would deem these meetings to be a nuisance, so I would also recommend allowing students the option to opt out of the service.

All of these suggestions stem from my own experiences. And, after listening to the politically fuelled complaints of youth voters throughout my time at university, I must stress that failure to listen to students’ issues and, most importantly, provide solutions, will ultimately lead to a risk in promoting Labour into government at the next election. An outcome which came far too close for comfort just a few months ago. However, listening to students and successfully providing solutions to their issues, may even lead to an upsurge in Conservative youth voters. After all, we once thought of Scotland as a Labour stronghold, until Ruth Davidson orchestrated an increase in the Conservative vote. There’s nothing to suggest we can’t do the same to turn our fortunes around and increase the Conservative vote amongst youth voters. Perhaps, even as soon as the next election.

 

Blue Collar Conservatism in the USA

David Cowan PictureDavid Cowan writes for Toryworkers on the how blue collar conservatism in the US compares with the UK

British Conservatives have been searching their souls since the General Election result. It has been thirty years since the party won a landslide majority, and so the Tory modernisation dialogue is being revived. As blue-collar conservatives think about their contribution to this debate, it would be useful for them to look across the Atlantic. Blue-collar conservatives in America have been grappling with similar questions about how to address the consequences of globalisation and move beyond their old ideological hang-ups.

The beginnings of a new blue-collar conservatism in America came about when two journalists, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, co-authored Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream in 2008. Their analysis focused on how working-class Americans were being disadvantaged by weak social mobility and outdated welfare systems, and were also being alienated by the Democratic party’s cultural liberalism. This left blue-collar voters open to voting Republican if the party adopted a new economic message. It was advice which John McCain and Mitt Romney chose to ignore during their failed presidential campaigns.

After the 2012 defeat, there was greater recognition within the party that Republicans would need to change. This led to the formation of a “Reform Conservative” movement (a.k.a. “Reformicons”) made up of blue-collar conservatives as well as compassionate conservatives, green and localist conservatives, and assorted moderate Republicans. They were on a mission to modernise American conservatism and move past the orthodoxies created by Cold War-era Republicanism. But during the 2016 primaries, none of the mainstream Republican candidates had taken in this message. Instead, they were all gripped by “Zombie Reaganism”. In their mind, every election year was 1980, every Democratic candidate was Jimmy Carter, and they were all auditioning to be the new Ronald Reagan.

The only candidate who offered anything new for blue-collar Americans was Donald Trump with his brand of economic nationalism. By winning over Democratic voters in rustbelt states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Trump managed to take the White House in a stunning victory. Tragically and inevitably, Trump has betrayed his blue-collar base since taking office. The Obamacare repeal bills, the tax reform plan, and the 2018 budget all provide giveaways for the wealthy whilst leaving blue-collar Americans worse-off.

Despite these setbacks, Reformicons are still pursuing their modernisation project. A major part of these efforts is the restoration of Reagan’s true legacy. A new book, The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue Collar Conservatism by Henry Olsen, a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is the most significant contribution to this debate. Olsen dismantles the mythologised image of Reagan as a libertarian ideologue. He reminds readers of how Reagan was a New Deal Democrat in his youth who loved and admired Franklin Roosevelt, and was President of the Screen Actors Guild (Hollywood’s very own trade union).

Anticommunism paved the way for Reagan’s conversion to conservative politics, but the liberalism of his youth stayed with him in certain ways. Despite the promise of radical free-market reform, Reagan still pledged himself to the defence of the economic and social safety net created by the New Deal. This allowed him to win over blue-collar Democratic voters, the “Reagan Democrats”, in a powerful winning coalition. It was a far cry from the anti-statist ideology which has prevented the Republican party from adapting to the post-Cold War era.

It remains to be seen how the Trump presidency will change America and the Republican party, but it should be a cautionary tale for Conservatives in Britain. Failure to move on from old doctrines and respond to the post-Brexit landscape can only be disastrous for the party. This makes it essential that the Conservatives continue to craft a positive and inspiring message which can win over working-class voters as part of a broad, new winning coalition.

David Cowan is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Cambridge with an M.Phil. in Political Thought and Intellectual History. He blogs at The Tory Democrat. This blog represents David’s views.

CWTU at the Conservative National Convention

mattsmithprofileMatt Smith, eBulletin Editor and Events Programme Manager of CWTU spoke to delegates at the Conservative National Convention on the work of the CWTU. On Saturday 12th November 2016 of CWTU he told delegates:

“Historically as many of you will be aware there was an organisation called Conservative Trade Unionists, founded by Margaret Thatcher, Norman Tebbit and Peter Bottomley in 1975. The CTU’s impressive organisation consisted of branches in hundreds of constituencies serving as a conduit between moderate, aspirational trade unionists and the Conservative Party, to establish an allied presence within British trade unionism.

In a paper written for Demos in 2009, the Rt. Hon. Rob Halfon MP, now Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships, argued for engagement and also pointed out the electoral possibilities of a better relationship with ordinary trade union members. Rob’s conviction that the Conservative Party should reach out to ordinary workers and politically non-affiliated trade unionists across Britain, carried through to his Deputy Chairmanship of the Conservative Party in 2015 and the CWTU was convened at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester later that year.

Indeed, David Cameron, Leader of the Conservative Party at the time, repeatedly referred to ‘struggling strivers’ and used the concept of a trade union to describe the Conservative Party under his leadership when he said: ‘This party is the union for hardworking parents’ and when he also said we are ‘The party of working people, the party for working people, now, tomorrow, always’.

The contemporary relevance of the CWTU and efforts to engage with working communities and trade union members is reflected in the direction that Prime Minister Theresa May has taken our Party in. In her 2016 Conservative Party Conference speech in Birmingham she referred to a ‘new centre ground in British politics’ and called on our Party to ‘step up’ its efforts to represent working-class blue-collar communities in light of a Labour Party that under Jeremy Corbyn has cart-wheeled over the horizon to the left. Theresa May has pledged to work for those who are ‘just about managing to get by’. She is pledged to ‘improving the security and rights of ordinary working people is a key part of building a country and an economy that works for everyone’. Indeed a key passage of Theresa May’s conference speech reflected this when she said: ‘let us take this opportunity to show that we, the Conservative Party, truly are the party of the workers’.

Driving a wedge further in to a divided Labour Party has obvious benefits, electorally, for our Party in parts of the country with a higher incidence of trade union membership, where many people identify with their union as a vehicle for their aspirations. More trade unionists voted for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives than Labour in 1979. There are almost seven million trade union members in the UK. In 2009, a Populus poll found that over thirty percent of Unite members intended to back the Conservatives in the 2010 General Election. In 2012, only 12 out of 58 unions in the Trade Union Congress were Labour affiliated. Many services offered by trade unions to their members are in reality capitalistic in nature such as private medical insurance, work training and legal advice.

When the Party Board created the CWTU, its all-voluntary organisation was dedicated to the overriding objective of reaching out to all workers and trade unionists in our country. In particular we are dedicated to the following aims: Firstly to articulate the Conservative message on working life issues; Secondly to advocate an outward-looking stance on trade union issues and engagement with responsible trade unionists; and thirdly to advocate the view that the Conservative Party should focus on those who struggle the most in modern Britain – those who in the Prime Minister’s words ‘just about get by’.

Over the last twelve months we have established ourselves as an organisation within the Party and settled in to a role, with strong links to the regional parties across Britain. We have established a website populated with high quality content, produced a monthly eBulletin delivered events within the Party including at the 2016 Party Conference maintained an active presence through Conservative campaigns and begun the process of dialoguing with moderate non-affiliated trade unionists.