Copeland shows that the Conservatives are the true workers’ party

spencerprofileThe amazing by-election success of Trudy Harrison in Copeland has no end of sub-texts which will be poured over by journalists and political experts alike in the weeks ahead.

Governing parties do not win by-elections in what have been Labour areas – those are the rules. Or rather, it seems, those were the rules.

But rules are there to be broken and you have to ask the question – is the result really so incredible? I would say it is not.

Clearly, there were big local issues at play – the protection of consultant led midwifery services at the West Cumberland Hospital for one which led to one of the most unpleasant and objectionable campaigns Labour has fought with headlines like ‘Babies will die – How can you live with that?’

Another important local concern was about the lack of investment in road infrastructure throughout the region. Many campaigners like myself will have learned the finer details of journey times from Whitehaven to Carlisle – a distance of some 40 miles. As one local resident explained to me at some length, a journey on the A595 can take a ‘very long time’ when you are behind a tractor!

No doubt these campaign issues and many others that came forward during the by-election were of great importance to local residents. But when all is said and done the Copeland result was not determined by these issues.

This by-election came down to just one key issue – jobs.

Which party would support jobs, create jobs, and help to secure even better quality jobs. And perhaps most critically, which party understood that the protection and support of these jobs also necessitated making sure that workers’ rights – in particular hard-earned pension rights – were protected at all costs.

Throughout the campaign Prospect – a politically independent trades union of which I am proud to be a member – fought a high profile and most effective campaign in support of their membership. Many thousands of Prospect members live and work in the constituency, most notably for the nuclear industry based at Sellafield Ltd.

The union actively sought endorsement from all candidates and their parties on two key issues: support for nuclear power production and the proposals to develop a new nuclear power station at Moorside; and support for an agreed outcome to proposed reforms to final salary pension schemes across the nuclear estate.

Anyone who has visited Copeland understands that the nuclear industry and the high-skilled, well0paid jobs the it provides to some 20,000 workers across the region are absolutely vital to local people. In many respects a parallel can be directly drawn between Copeland and Trident jobs at the Faslane naval base on the Clyde.

Jeremy Corbyn’s confused, half-hearted, and frankly unconvincing support for the nuclear industry no doubt resonated badly for him and the Labour Party.

It is important for all Conservatives not to lose sight of the fact that Labour’s woes alone would not have been enough for us to win in a seat like Copeland. Perhaps more strikingly for me is the fact that not only did electors feel that their jobs were safer in our hands, but also that their hard-won employment rights including pensions, would be best protected by voting Conservative.

Early on the Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists signed up to the Prospect campaign listed above, particularly supporting the honouring of promises made to workers in the nuclear industry relating to pension entitlements. We will continue to work closely with all moderate trade union colleagues as we search out a fair and affordable settlement for all parties.

With this great by-election success in Copeland we can quite fairly declare that the Conservatives are now the party of all hard working people in our country today. The true workers party – Tory workers. Labour no longer represent the concerns and aspirations of workers and have been shown to have lost touch with their previously core working-class roots.

We must continue to stand up for the values of all working people, and particularly focus on workers’ rights. Here we must listen readily and openly to our union colleagues – we will not always agree with them, but their values are our shared values.

Our common aspiration is for a country which works for everyone. I have no doubt that if we are able to deliver for the hard working people of Copeland over the years ahead then we will be delivering for all workers across our great country today.

Dr Spencer Pitfield OBE is the Director of CWTU. This article first appeared on ConservativeHome >>

My view on the current strike action

spencerprofileGiven the ongoing terrible disruption to many hard working peoples’ lives I can very much understand the ever louder calls that Government should consider banning strikes altogether on essential public services.

Here at the Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists (CWTU) we promote moderate trade unionism in all its very best forms. Trade unions are fundamentally good things. Working together with employers in the common interest of maintaining a happy and productive workforce, offering fair remuneration, and improving wherever possible working conditions for employees.

It is right that Government has looked to tighten-up strike threshold levels for industrial action. However, when it comes to withdrawing the last resort of workers to take industrial action – even if this action will almost certainly shut-down essential public services – then this would no doubt be a bridge to far.

All workers – whether in essential services or not – should have the ultimate right to strike. Clearly though such action must very much be the action of last resort. One can legitimately question therefore whether strike action such as Southern Rail, which has caused and is causing commuter misery for tens of thousands, is indeed the action of last resort?

Dr Spencer Pitfield is the Director of Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists

Conservatives advocate responsible Trade Unionism

spencerprofileThe coming together of working people, seeking betterment, independence and the provision of services on a pooled basis, is entirely consistent with a Conservative view of civil society.

In 1894, Frederick Rogers of the bookbinders said “there must be an independent life within the state to prevent government becoming tyranny and the trade unions will be chief among those who shall call that independent life into being.”

Significantly, unions at this time were acutely sensitive to the needs of private enterprise. Politically they were incremental, piecemeal and pragmatic – not in any way revolutionary.

Philip Collins wrote recently to read extracts from the early proceedings of the congresses of the trade unions is more like eavesdropping on an assembly of today’s Federation of Small Businesses than on a contemporary council of Unite’.

And so in its earliest form, trade unionism focused through representation of workers particularly on better communication with employers. In so doing this the then ‘modernist’ approach lessened the intervention of Government in daily employment disputes, greatly empowering better employment rights and working practices for all working people.

More recently active participation of union members has declined and the leadership of some of these larger now federated trade unions has drifted to what might be deemed a more irresponsible and less representative approach.

As such the time is now right for an even stronger Conservative narrative for moderate and responsible trade unionism.

It was Benjamin Disraeli who legislated to allow picketing. In 1931 Stanley Baldwin said “had the employers of past generations all of them dealt fairly with their men there would have been no unions.”

By 1951 the Conservative Party manifesto of the day read we must free ourselves from our impediments. Of all impediments, the class war is the worst.”

In 1975, addressing the then Conservative Trade Unionists, Margaret Thatcher said “as you well know, for over 100 years, ever since Disraeli’s day, since before the Labour Party existed, it has been the belief of the Conservative Party that the law should not only permit, but that it should assist, the trades unions to carry out their legitimate function of protecting their members.” 

During the general election campaign of 1979, Conservative supporting trade unionists held a rally in Wembley Stadium, displaying a banner emblazoned with the words ‘Trade Unions for a Conservative Victory!’

More recently David Cameron has focused clearly on this shared endeavor and revived work ethic: “We in this party are a trade union too.”

In many ways unions are capitalistic and consumerist institutions helping to sustain a free economy. Unions frequently offer members’ services that foster individual responsibility and independence from the state, such as medical and legal insurance, tax advice and retails discounts.

Many Conservative-voting trade unionists express incredulity at press coverage of the preponderance of left-leaning participants in Britain’s unions. Within unions, there is a sufficiently large number of Conservatives who have a different perspective on what unions should do to improve material standards of living, secure jobs and support growth.

Our newly established Conservative Trade Unionists (CTU) offers a means for these unionists to come together.

By signaling our support for moderate and responsible vehicles of workplace representation we are also signaling that we are in touch with hard-working and aspirational blue-collar communities.

In 1975 Margaret Thatcher told Conservative Trade Unionists: It is not just for the benefit of this Party—it is for the benefit of the trades union movement and of the whole country, that those of reason and moderation should be as active and determined in union affairs as are the extremists.”

More trade unionists voted for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives than Jim Callaghan’s ‘Crisis, what crisis’ Labour in 1979.

There are almost seven million trade unionists 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.

We must make our own ‘march through the institutions’. Joining non-Labour affiliated unions to our cause, getting involved in their management and contesting internal elections are all ways we can do this.

The 1950 Conservative Party Manifesto contained the following passage ‘Conservatives should not hesitate to join Trade Unions as so many of our party have already done, and to play their full part in their union affairs’; reminding readers: ‘the foundation of industrial endeavor must be good human relationships, not impersonal control from aloft and from afar’.

This would be a good place to start.

Dr Spencer Pitfield OBE is the Director of Conservative Trade Unionists. This piece is a version of one which originally appeared on ConservativeHome.

Conservatives must lead the way in tackling UK poverty

spencerprofile

In David Cameron and Ruth Davidson, today’s Conservative Party has two leaders who care passionately about ending UK poverty.

I recently had the privilege of hearing Ruth Davidson MSP speak at the third annual UK Poverty Lecture hosted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Prospect Magazine in central London.

As leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Ruth is working around the clock ahead of the crucial Holyrood election in May. Scottish Conservatives have, in some opinion polls, been coming in second place ahead of Labour and her excellent team of candidates are promoting an energetic platform not only for the Union, but also in support of all hardworking families and dealing with UK poverty.

Her speech on 8 February echoed the statement by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that ‘poverty is a cost that the UK cannot afford.’ In a recent report the organisation said that poverty ‘wastes people’s potential and drains public finances, hampering economic growth. If we don’t act it is likely to increase.’

Ruth has taken seriously the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s message regarding poverty and expanded upon it, putting forward a Conservative vision for social justice. Among the many insightful comments that she made – and I recommend that you read her full speech on our Conservative Trade Unionists website – was the idea that ‘we should not stand idly by as we watch failures of both state and market alike affect poverty and gross inequality.’

Fortunately, we are seeing record national employment figures and more people joining the workforce. This goes a long way towards tackling poverty and inequality but there is still a lot more to do.

In the three months to November last year, the national jobless total fell by 99,000 to 1.6 million – an eight-year low.

By way of comparison, in my region of Yorkshire, the count fell by only 3,000 to 164,000.

As Ruth will know from her own constituency of Glasgow, we regularly see higher job figures in London and the South East of England than we do in other parts of the UK.

As such, critically, we need to ensure that economic growth, which the Conservative Government is helping to create, can be shared across the whole country.

Full employment however will never fully address the issue of UK poverty. Sitting as I do at Sheffield’s Magistrates’ Court I know only too well that there will always be people who need and require the full support and intervention of the state.

David Cameron’s Life Chances speech in January focused on more support for children and families to create a future that is brighter and with less risk of poverty for all.

The Prime Minister spoke about what he called a ‘simple ambition’: ‘To give every child the chance to dream big dreams, and the tools – the character, the knowledge and the confidence, that will let their potential shine brightly.’

He announced a range of new investments and policies, including extra funding for childcare and relationship support, a new ‘help to save’ scheme so working families can be ready for any future difficulties, and plans to direct £70m towards careers over the course of this Parliament, primarily through the Careers and Enterprise Company – which will result in a major effort to recruit mentors and role models for teenagers from less fortunate backgrounds.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found recently that four in five young people who go from a position of unemployment to low-paid work are still poorly paid ten years later. This should be unacceptable for anyone who wants to build a better and fairer society.

We need to be ambitious about the goal of ending poverty in the UK, including, crucially, in-work poverty, by drawing upon the important research available. Such a framework must have the levers to deal with all aspects of UK poverty, which is a highly complicated area of policy delivery.

Ruth Davidson declared that ‘Government can be a force for good’ while David Cameron laid out the vision of a ‘more social approach’ in 21st century politics, saying: ‘we need to think big, be imaginative not just leaving behind the old thinking but opening ourselves up to the new thinking.’

Our leaders are setting out a bold governing agenda and it shows that the Conservative Party offers real solutions to the social justice problems of today. Significantly, if we are to succeed we must not lose sight of the fact that economic growth cannot deliver for all people in poverty and the state will always have to be there to support those in need.

The challenge put to us all is to keep progressing our Conservative campaign against poverty, creating in the process the positive ‘life chances’ that the Prime Minister has referred to. We can do this by making sure our politics continues to support the most vulnerable in our society whilst also helping those that can to prosper and flourish.

Dr Spencer Pitfield OBE is the Director of Conservative Trade Unionists. This piece is a version of one which originally appeared on ConservativeHome.

Housebuilding is a great Conservative tradition that we must develop today

spencerprofileThere are too many families in Britain who want to buy a home of their own – but are currently priced out of the market. It is one of the great social problems of our age, and we must rediscover the Conservative Party’s historic support for housebuilding if we are firmly to establish our position in the centre ground of British politics today.

In the nineteenth century Benjamin Disraeli made it a priority to clear the Victorian slums and fund new housing and sanitation for ordinary British workers. Later, in the twentieth century’s post-war years, Harold Macmillan was called upon by Winston Churchill to build a record amount of houses for the people. As Housing Minister he oversaw the building of an average of over 300,000 homes per year – an extraordinary achievement by any set of standards.

More recently there has been a number of very encouraging signs that we are moving in the right direction. News that the Government will employ direct commissioning to build thousands of homes should be greeted with much enthusiasm. These are homes for working families across the country and will contribute to a wider strategy of housebuilding and home ownership – and importantly, they will be homes that people want to live in.

Dr Spencer Pitfield is the Director of Conservative Trade Unionists. Read more of his article on Conservative Home.

Why the Conservatives are the real Workers’ Party

spencerprofileThis article was written for Conservative Home

In September, Robert Halfon announced the rebirth of the Conservative Trade Unionists movement – or CTU for short.

“We are recreating the Conservative trade union workers’ movement. There will be a new website and people will be able to join. There will be a voice for moderate trade unionists who feel they may have sympathy with the Conservatives or even just feel that they’re not being represented by militant trade union leaders.”

I’m pleased to let you know that Robert Halfon’s vision has now become a reality.

The work that trade unions have done since their creation in terms of helping the plight of workers, insuring that workers get a fair deal from employers and providing special services to their members should not go unrecognised by any Conservative. It is something all Conservatives should be proud of. Indeed, it was a Conservative Prime Minister, Lord Derby, who in 1867 set out to decriminalise trade unions.

Conservatism has throughout history been on the side of workers, and continues to be so today – from William Wilberforce campaigning against slavery to great philanthropists such Lord Shaftesbury fighting against poverty; from Sir Robert Peel repealing the Corn Laws to cut food prices to Benjamin Disraeli funding new housing and sanitation for workers; from Stanley Baldwin, who brought in the widows’ pension and holiday entitlements, to Harold Macmillan’s great housing revolution; from Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy to John Major’s mission to make public services responsive to the public’s needs.

And now, it is this Conservative Government, under David Cameron, that is extending right to buy, cutting taxes for lower earners, creating more than two million jobs and two million apprenticeships.

During the 1960s and 70s, there were a large number of Conservative Party members who were also active trade union members. Some of the Party’s biggest beasts came from the union movement – Norman Tebbit, for example. Indeed, in 1950, a certain Parliamentary Candidate named Miss Roberts got her first political role as President of the Dartford branch of the Conservative Trade Unionists – or the CTU as it was better known then.

In 1975, soon after, as Margaret Thatcher, she became leader of the Conservative Party, she addressed a thousand-strong rally of the Conservative Trade Unionists. She said:

“As you well know, for over 100 years, ever since Disraeli’s day, since before the Labour Party existed, it has been the belief of the Conservative Party that the law should not only permit, but that it should assist, the trade unions to carry out their legitimate function of protecting their members…

You, as Conservative trade unionists, are part of the force for reason and responsibility in the movement. You are part of the majority which is both reasonable and moderate.”

These words are just as relevant today as they were in 1975. While some union leaders are helping the Labour Party to indulge in grumpy old Socialism, many trade union members – most of whom are moderate – are looking for practical and sensible ways to create the best possible environment for all workers.

To really understand what trade unions are about, we need to look beyond the caricature. There is a difference between the one-dimensional political rhetoric that comes out of the mouths of just a few militant union leaders and the support and activities of members.

Trade unions are first and foremost grassroots organisations, rooted in their community, providing much needed and appreciated services to their members. Members interact with their union on a local level. The value unions give to their members is based around the practical issues people come across in their day-to-day working life.

As Conservatives, we have always believed that it’s best to solve problems at the grassroots level in our communities; and that social capital is as important as economic capital and that they should go hand in hand. Collectively, the unions represent a huge swathe of social capital across the country. They are the largest body of volunteers in the UK. Some surveys suggest union members are eight times more likely to engage in voluntary work than the average person. The work that thousands of union members do is a great example of Big Society in action.

The creation of our new officially affiliated organisation within our Party, the CTU, is a direct link to our very proud history.

During the 1970s and 80s, the Conservative Trade Union movement was very strong: by 1986, it had 70,000 members and, in 1979, 4,000 Conservative trade unionists attended a rally to support Mrs Thatcher in Wembley. In 1986, a CTU conference was held with banners “Trade Unions for Tory victory”. ABrian Mawhinney, David Trippier, Robert Atkins, John Lee and Norman Fowler were some of the speakers.

Although the CTU was disbanded in early 1990s it was kept alive by the fantastic efforts of “Conservatives at Work” colleagues.

In the months ahead, and with your support, our team will build a modern CTU for Conservative-minded and moderate trade unions and all working people, so that they too have a strong voice in the future of our party. Please do visit Our website, sign up and join our new organisation, and help us to work even harder to reach out and support all trade unionists and all working people in our country today.

Welcome to Conservative Trade Unionists

spencerprofileWelcome to Conservative Trade Unionists (CTU) – our mission is to reach out to all workers and trade unionists in our country.

We are focused on improving employment rights, tackling low pay, helping to raise productivity and supporting even greater employment satisfaction for all. I very much hope you will join us in our important work in the coming weeks, months and years.