The Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists (ToryWorkers) have sent an open letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to urge him to reverse cuts to Universal Credit in the forthcoming budget. The letter has been signed by 126 member of ToryWorkers and supported by over 900 more. Over 1000 ToryWorkers actively urge the Chancellor to support workers who are doing the right thing by actively seeking work, finding work and staying in work. The full letter with named supporters is here (Open Letter to the Chancellor) and the text is as follows;
The Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP
1 Horse Guards Rd
Dear Mr Hammond,
As you know, the Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists are an affiliated group within the Conservative Party. Our aims and principles are to encourage, advise and warn on matters of Conservative Party Policy which impact on the millions of ordinary workers across the United Kingdom. Much of our work is carried out without the glare of public gaze but on matters of national importance to workers we feel compelled to bring public notice to our position on the implementation of Universal Credit and how this will negatively impact on ordinary workers who are striving to do the right thing, going out to work, often in unfulfilling jobs and in circumstances which blind any notion of work-life balance and family living.
The Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists fully support the broad principle of Universal Credit. Its structure, replacing six different benefits into one and being paid monthly replicates a monthly wage which makes transition into work smoother and when claiming UC whilst in work, compliments a working wage with receipt of benefits. We welcome the introduction of a taper to remove the immediate cut off threshold removing the absurdity of being better off on benefits than in work. It is right that benefits continue when work is found and they are only gradually phased out as wages rise.
We remember well the absolute debacle in the previous Labour administration of introducing tax credits in one year and the extreme angst and hardship of families which followed when they were unwittingly overpaid and faced demands for return of overpayments. We are pleased that the introduction of UC has been phased to avoid the problems faced over the rapid introduction of tax credits, problems which invariably have a negative impact on the recipient and are compounded on the worse off who have little or no resilience for financial shocks.
For this reason, the Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists call on you to reverse cuts made to the welfare budget in 2016 which we maintain are the only way to restore faith in the principle and policy of Universal Credit and properly reward workers for seeking work, getting work and staying in work. Rewarding hard work is at the heart of Conservative values and rewarding those who are in work and in most need is a priority for the Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
On its introduction in 2013 there was a great deal of goodwill amongst workers for the new benefit. With real confirmed cases now coming to light of recipients being worse off on UC and delays in payments this goodwill has evaporated. Only a stimulus of an additional £2 billion into UC will revitalise its original principles, reignite goodwill in the policy and properly reward hard work.
Polling earlier this year showed that the traditional working class are deserting Labour and voting Conservative. This appears to have given Labour a bit of jitters. Losses to Labour in their heartlands like Bolton and Wigan are the tangible evidence. My own campaigning in their coalfield strongholds where it was once deep red immovable Labour wards are now marginals.
As if to regain what they see as their demographic at the Unite Policy Conference earlier this year, Jeremy Corbyn took to the stage to talk about Labour ‘Being back as the voice of the working class’, conceding in one soundbite that Labour was indeed losing the workers’ vote.
Could it be that the considerable electoral might of the UK workers has found Jeremy out? He is on record as saying that it is the big corporations and the rich need to fear a Labour Government. Surely this would appeal to the worker? This was almost a clarion call at the 2017 General Election. But the ‘rich’ certainly won’t be in fear and there isn’t a worker in the land who wouldn’t say no at having a go at being better off.
What really irks the worker isn’t the mere presence of rich people but the ability for the biggest corporations, who have resources to more than match any civil service department, to mitigate the increased costs brought to them by a socialist Labour Government. Those that need to be in genuine fear of a Corbyn led Labour Government are the workers they claim to represent. Polling of the workers’ vote shows that they understand this and are deserting Corbyn. This core demographic is the necessity of any election victory. Workers on average wages, workers who work hard every day to make ends meet, workers simply cannot afford a Labour government.
Defining ‘the rich’ in last year’s General Election, the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonell, indicated that the rich will be those earning £70,000 or more a year. This is a good salary for anyone but it’s not a fat cat wage. £70,000 is the local school head teacher, the police superintendent and your own GP. What the ordinary workers need to fear is that this is only the starting point. A shallow minded and lazy tax and spend policy, so beloved of all previous Labour Governments, can only go so far. Previous Labour Governments have punitively targeted tax hikes to their definition of ‘the rich’ to cover their spending plans only to discover that two things happen.
Firstly, the higher rate tax base is tiny and dwarfed by the basic rate tax base. There is little to be gained and everything to lose by targeting a small section of society. The last time Labour attempted to tax their way out of economic crisis in 2008/09 they brought forward a tax rate of 45% for higher earners and increased it to 50%, they wanted to raise £2.5bn from this, but those being taxed changed their behaviour, such as bringing forward income, so it was paid before the new rate came into effect, this reduced the tax intake so much that it actually reduced the overall tax take for these higher earners by £1.8bn. (budget2012/excheq-income-tax-2042.pdf)
The long-term effect will always be speculative as when the Conservatives returned to power in coalition the 50% rate was reduced back to 45%. Labour attacked this move ferociously however it resulted in a tax revenue increase of £8bn. These basic economics a Labour government don’t understand. Had Labour remained in power, and based on their previous form, they would have increased the tax rate ever higher. We know this because that’s exactly what they did in the 1970’s. On gaining power in 1974 the top rate was hiked up to a stifling 83%.
This brings me on to the second consequence and one that all reasonable hard working low and average earners need to know and the narrative that needs to be hammered home. Even the most economically incompetent Labour Government can be made to understand that there is only so much to be extracted from higher earners before they are incentivised enough to up sticks and take their money away from taxation. Whether this is by fair means or foul the result is the same, less tax paid into the exchequer, less cash for public services.
Denis Healey always denied saying he’ll “Squeeze the rich until the pips squeak” but the this is certainly how he behaved. After failing to raise enough tax revenue from higher earners, the Labour Government targeted the lower paid ordinary workers. With a far larger tax base they increased the 30% basic tax on the lowest earners to 33% and didn’t stop there, they targeted the lower paid again with an eye watering 35%. No matter how loud the rhetoric about going after the corporations, the rich, the elite; Labour Governments always attack the very people they purport to represent. Even in recent history the last Labour Government attacked the very lowest earners by scrapping the lowest rate of 10%.
The ones to fear most of all from a Corbyn Labour Government are hard working low and average workers, and this is the message that needs to be pressed home, to every home, over and over and over again. To win any election the workers’ vote has always been absolutely essential, the narrative needs to be captured. Low and average workers cannot afford a Labour Government.
I really welcome the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s UK Poverty 2017 report as it will play an important part in addressing social injustices in the UK. I would like to speak to you today specifically about the social injustice in our education system.
The trickle-down fallacy
The Conservative government of the 1980s turned this country around. Today we are more prosperous because it had the vision and conviction to set our markets free. And today the virtues that it championed are alive and well: aspiration, hard work, enterprise, independence, resilience.
But it did not get everything right. One of its mistakes was to assume that individual flourishing would flow automatically from economic buoyancy – that building economic capital would automatically mean social cohesion too
We now know that not to be true. As David Cameron realised in his vision of the “big society”, for people to truly thrive they must pair economic freedom with social capital.
Today, we risk making a similarly simplistic assumption in our schools; that high standards alone can be an engine of individual prosperity; that success will trickle down to everybody if we just get standards right.
The truth is that, while high standards are vital, they are not sufficient alone – particularly for our most disadvantaged students who face many social injustices.
Today, I want to outline some of those injustices, before explaining why high standards must be accompanied by human capital and social capital.
I also want to promote a debate focused on solutions and offer a few ideas that could go some way in addressing the injustices in our education system. I hope that our committee and experts in the sector will be able to flesh them out in more detail.
First, the injustices.
While education is the best it has ever been, social injustice is still endemic in every part of our education system.
Around 195,000 children use government-funded childcare in settings that are less than good.
Just 33 per cent of pupils on free school meals get five good GCSEs compared with 61 per cent of their better off peers.
A child living in one of England’s poorest areas is 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than a child living in its richest areas.
Children who are taught in alternative settings, rather than in mainstream education, have terrible prospects. Just 1.1 per cent of this group get five good GCSEs.
And in one recent intake, no pupil on free school meals from the entire North East of England went to Oxbridge.
The importance of high standards
To tackle these social injustices, high standards matter. For pupils to climb the ladder of opportunity, our education system needs to be rigorous.
And here we do very well.
We have a proud intellectual heritage in this country.
I also have a great deal of admiration for all the work the government has done to improve academic standards since taking the reins in 2010.
It has furnished our children’s education with more rigour, and it has built an infrastructure that propels our strong tradition of scholarship into the 21st century.
The evidence is clear to see:
We now have a system that actively encourages schools to innovate and raise their game. 1.8 million more children are in good or outstanding schools.
Exams are more challenging, which is raising our children’s skills levels so they can get good jobs and compete in a global skills race.
And we have some of the finest universities in the world.
But high standards alone won’t do the job. Disadvantaged pupils also need human capital and social capital. This is something that the Centre for Social Justice has recognised for over a decade.
Let me start with human capital – or skills capital, as I like to call it. This is about building the specific skills required to thrive in the jobs market.
We have ‘Nightmare on Skills Street’ in this country.
In December 2015, nearly a third of workers did not hold suitable qualifications for the jobs they were doing. And basic skills are inadequate – more than a quarter (around nine million) of all working aged adults in England have low literacy and/or numeracy skills.
All routes of learning should be open to every child.
But we must also be honest about the fact that many disadvantaged children take technical routes. And we need to fill our skills gaps and capitalise on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Both these facts expose an inevitable truth: technical education needs to be dramatically improved so that it carries the same prestige and opportunity as its academic cousin.
The government is starting to do this in its post-16 Skills Plan, which will produce a much smaller number of qualifications that employers recognise and value. And it has introduced the Apprenticeships Levy, which will double investment in apprenticeships to £2.5 billion by 2020.
But we can do so much more.
Apprenticeships work. 90 per cent of apprentices go on to a job or further education. We need more apprenticeships and we need them to go to the most disadvantaged students.
To do this, we should rethink how we spend the existing £60 million support fund for apprentices from the poorest areas. This currently goes to incentivise providers and we can be a lot smarter about how we use that money.
Some disadvantaged pupils are just not ready for work and face many complex challenges. They’re not even at the foot of the ladder of opportunity. We need to help them get there so they can start apprenticeships and work their way up.
There are remarkable grassroots community groups that already do this well. Let’s allow these groups, steered by organisations like the Prince’s Trust, to bid for funding from this £60 million pot so that they can help young people overcome their challenges and start apprenticeships.
Alongside this, we need to transform careers advice into careers skills advice, avoid the duplication of the National Careers Service, Careers Enterprise Company and the like, and reallocate the many millions of pounds that go to careers and create a one stop shop of a National Skills Service, with a UCAS for FE and Apprenticeships, and a careers skills passport as designed by Lord Young.
2) Degree apprenticeships
Degree apprenticeships could be the crown jewel in a revamped system of technical education.
They have enormous value. Students earn as they learn, don’t incur mountains of debt, and get good quality jobs at the end.
Degree apprenticeships also help us meet our skills deficit, so they benefit society too. We need to re-gear money into higher education to help combat social disadvantage and meet our country’s skills needs.
I want to see more universities offering these apprenticeships. I hope that one day, half of all university students are doing them.
To fund more degree apprenticeships, we should increase and ring-fence funds from the Apprenticeships Levy. And we could do this by broadening the levy’s remit, so that employers with a salary roll of £2 million qualify.
So far, I have explained why standards must be accompanied by skills capital.
But we can’t stop there.
Children and students also need social capital.
And in some ways, this is the most important component of them all. Why? Because if they come from broken homes and cannot develop social capital elsewhere, they can have all the Rolls Royce teaching in the world but are still likely to face colossal disadvantage.
What exactly do I mean by social capital?
The OECD defines this as:
“the links, shared values and understandings in society that enable individuals and groups to work together.”
As it points out:
“access to information and influence through social networks confers private benefits on individuals.”
Equality of educational opportunity can only get disadvantaged pupils so far. Prosperity is contingent on what people do with those opportunities, which in turn is shaped by social capital.
Disadvantaged pupils lack social capital because:
They tend to face more challenges in their personal lives and ruptured relationships destroy social capital.
Their lack of access to information and networks crowd out the opportunities they might have otherwise had.
Their absence of social capital is enormously damaging. It means that talent does not always lead to prosperity.
And this is reflected in the evidence. Even when they get similar GCSEs and live in the same neighbourhood as non-FSM pupils, FSM students are:
34 per cent more likely to drop out of post-16 education.
29 per cent less likely to study two or more facilitating A-levels.
47 per cent less likely to attend a Russell Group university.
Graduates from richer backgrounds also earn more than their poorer counterparts, even when they have the same degrees from the same universities.
Good schools can bring the ladder of opportunity to the feet of disadvantaged pupils.
They are not just bastions of learning but also places of community.
It is simply wrong that people who have the same aptitude and work ethic as their better-off peers are not converting that ability into similar successes. All because they do not have the same confidence, networks, soft-skills or know-how.
That is not social justice; that’s a recipe for inertia.
So we must do more.
1) Free early years/childcare for foster carers
First, we could help foster parents. The exclusion of fostered children from the additional 15 hours of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds in England is indefensible.
Foster carers raise some of society’s most vulnerable children, many of whom would benefit from high quality childcare, which would help boost social development.
We could pay for this by reducing the generous threshold that exists for parents to claim tax-free childcare, a subsidy that does not capture society’s most disadvantaged families. For instance, by dropping the eligibility cap to £65,000 from the exiting £100,000 mark, we could free up £150 million, which would easily cover the additional outlay.
In time, we should also reduce the similarly generous earnings cap for the 30 hours of free childcare that is available for three- and four-year-olds. And we should channel this to non-working parents, whose children need it more.
2) Private schools/charitable status
Our most disadvantaged pupils could also build social capital by attending our best private schools – if only they could get to these schools.
As Schools Week has highlighted, just 1 per cent of the 522,000 pupils in private schools receive full bursaries for their school fees – a proxy for the lowest income earners.
The current social contract between government and private schools is clearly not working.
The government should radically redefine its relationship with them. It should set up a private schools’ levy for to encourage the wealthier private schools to bring in society’s most disadvantaged pupils, which may include FSM students, Children in Need or foster children.
A levy is not a tax and schools would be able to reclaim their investment if they in turn invested in the futures of our most disadvantaged pupils.
Just imagine: for disadvantaged pupils, a private schools’ levy could unlock not only quality education, but also allow the skills capital and social capital that must accompany this.
It seems astonishing that 35 children are excluded from school every day, and the destination prospects for excluded children in alternative provision are so dire. Given that we know pretty well the kind of children that are likely to be excluded – children in care for example, it is clear that early intervention is the answer.
But, another way to make a difference is for the Government to support charities like The Difference, recruiting teachers to work in Alternative Provision, to be trained to look after the most vulnerable children, and then placing them in mainstream schools in senior positions for career development. Their knowledge and expertise, will be invaluable to mainstream schools and will make a real difference to the social capital in those schools.
My committee is currently doing an inquiry on Alternative Provision so we will be looking at this issue in further detail in the near future.
Universities, too, can play their part.
We constantly boast how proud we are that more disadvantaged pupils are going to university than ever before. This is, of course, good news. But they are also less likely to attend top universities; more likely to drop out of university; and more likely to get lower qualifications than their wealthier peers.
One of the biggest problems, of course, is prior attainment. But it is also about a lack of effective outreach by our best universities. Universities should rethink how they are spending their access budgets so that they give disadvantaged pupils the kind of support their better-off peers get.
Like private tuition.
They could provide tuition to those who need it most – either through other organisations or by mobilising the thousands of students on their books, many of whom will be looking to give back or polish their own skills.
And universities must also make sure that disadvantaged students have the pastoral support they need to stay at university and achieve their full potential once they get there.
4) Outside education
We also need to look at how character is being built outside education.
A lot has been said about Children’s Centres. But Family Hubs make more sense if we want to build social capital. They take the principle of Children’s Centres even further. They do this by providing support to the whole family, strengthening relationships, and improving parenting. And they build hubs for children from every age group, including teenagers, when support is often needed most.
A lot has also been said about the National Citizen Service. The sentiment behind the scheme is right. Building soft skills, resilience and character is fundamentally a good idea. But the NCS only lasts for four weeks. And it costs a lot more per place (£1,863) than other programmes – like a place at Scouts, which costs £550 for four years. We need to invest wisely, and we should explore whether the voluntary, charity and community sector could achieve more impact in local communities.
High standards, skills capital and social capital are the sturdy, interlocking foundations of educational success.
Remove one, and the rest come tumbling down.
Before introducing any new educational reform, as the rightly Government works to increase academic capital, it should make sure it boosts skills capital and social capital alongside.
So, 30 hours a week of child care for foster care children, an innovative scheme to train and incentivise teachers for the most vulnerable pupils, a private school levy for poorer children, funds targeted carefully to help the most disadvantaged learn new skills and finally, rocket boosting degree apprenticeships to transform higher education, are all designed to increase social and skills capital.
To root out social injustice in our education system.
To give advantage to the disadvantaged.
Until everyone, whatever their background can climb the ladder of opportunity – to get the education, skills and training they deserve, to achieve the jobs, security and prosperity, they and our country need.
Connor Short, Toryworkers Youth Coordinator, gives his personal insight into last month’s budget with his analysis of how the budget will work for young workers.
Before the budget was announced, there was a clear demand for it to be built around and for the
benefit of the workers. And, we were pleased it has lived up to those demands. A clear theme
running throughout the budget was the drive to continue building a country that can provide and
stabilise a foundation from which people can get work and those already in work can grow their
careers. We’ve seen unemployment drop and employment rising across the country during this
Conservative government and this budget is another key to continuing those very welcomed
It is important for young workers to see foundations, for stepping onto the ladder, being formed.
Some major progress was made towards creating these foundations in, quite possibly, the two
loudest lines of Philip Hammond’s budget. The big ‘Rabbit-out-of-the-hat’ moment of removing
stamp duty for over 80% of first time buyers and extending the railcard to 30 year olds.
The stamp duty cut will see young workers being able to put a deposit on their first property
sooner than previously expected and see less of their money being spent on renting when they
would prefer to be stepping onto the property ladder. A phenomenal victory for the property
ladder and for first time buyers.
This move is especially welcomed when considering the alarming statistic that, since the 1960s,
the average age of a first time buyer has risen from 23 to 35. The removal of stamp duty for all
properties up to £300,000 creates attractiveness in property ownership much more vivid and
within sight of many young workers saving up their wages for a deposit on a property. I’m already
hearing, in a personal capacity, from people across the political spectrum that they are loving this
decision from the Chancellor.
Although the stamp duty cut was, arguably, the biggest announcement in the budget, there was
also some more good news for young workers. The railcard being extended from 25 to 30 years
old means the opportunity for young workers like myself to access a less interrupted career path
has widened and will not feature on obstacle if any of us continue developing our careers beyond
the age of 25. If any young worker seeks to continue developing and advancing their career, but,
up to now, feels restricted by having to pay full price for train travel, they will no longer have such
a worry and will have the opportunity to develop their career nationwide without worrying about
the extra travel expenses, for another 4 years.
But, there’s even more. When Universal Credit was announced it was appreciated as an important
evolution of the welfare system, but needed to be refined and for some important flaws to be
addressed. The six-week waiting period drew up the major issue that it does not equate to the
same system as the workplace. If we are to truly support people in need of welfare we need to not
only support their transition back into the workplace, but also provide them with resources to be
supported while they are out of work. Action has been taken by reducing the waiting period to a
maximum of five weeks and any low income renters can apply from the first day that their
circumstances change, allowing them to be able to be supported while they are faced with
For any housing benefit claimants transitioning to the Universal Credit system worried about
missing a rental payment will no longer need to worry. Upon applying for Universal Credit, the
claimant will continue to receive housing benefit for another two weeks, eliminating the need to
have an upsetting and awkward negotiation with the landlord and meaning the claimant will not
have to ask for or loan any money in the short-term.
These updates to the Universal Credit system will mean claimants will be in a much better
position to search for new employment and enter or re-enter the workplace.
All in all, this was a victory for young workers. The ladder will retain its accessibility throughout our
20s and we will be able to get ourselves on the property ladder sooner, with the stamp duty cut.
And, with Universal Credit receiving a welcomed update, we can be sure to be protected upon
any unexpected period of unemployment.
Today the free market, capitalist system is under real threat. A proven economic mechanism for creating wealth is now increasingly perceived as failing and unfair. Only 17 years into the 21st Century the free market along with other established social institutions and processes appear poorly aligned with the needs of everyday people. However, unlike a growing number of millennials who are demanding change, throwing the ‘baby out with the bath water’ is not the way to achieve it.
Demanding change at any cost is a bad thing that needs be avoided. Similarly, ignoring the widespread appetite for change in the hope that it will simply go away and the status quo will be maintained is equally bad and ultimately doomed to failure.
It’s time that those who benefit most from the free market recognise that the free market only exists if the majority prospers as a result of the economic system. Following the financial crash in 2008, this reality has never been under greater scrutiny as inequality grows and living standards come under increasing pressure.
Many far left politicians propose replacing the whole free market, capitalist system with a government controlled, centrally operated economy. However, unlike the free market, which is proven to work, this approach always leads to catastrophe. Simply look at Venezuela. A preferable alternative would be radical change led by the free market that better aligns it with today’s social imperatives and moral tone.
Taking Moral Responsibility
Wealth distribution is often viewed negatively, which is understandable when it’s based on robbing ‘Peter to pay Paul.’ This has never worked and it never will. It undermines ambition and innovation, and ultimately erodes wealth, reducing the size of the economic pie for everyone. Modern philanthropy, on the other hand, could be the acceptable form of wealth distribution for the 21st Century; the radical free market response to today’s challenges.
In Victorian times, the wealthy used philanthropy very successfully to directly address some of their biggest social challenges, and although the world in which we now live is very different, similarities exist that point towards a greater role for modern philanthropy.
Early Victorian Britain was undergoing major upheaval as the industrial revolution progressed. As society was changing living standards were falling. According to the Cambridge Urban History of Britain, the 1830s and 1840s was probably the ‘worst ever decades for life expectancy since the Black Death’. In contrast to the suffering of the poor, this was a period of rapidly expanding wealth from industry and commerce. As a result, government policy was struggling to respond to new social problems – Ring any bells?
As in Victorian times, modern philanthropy could be used to help government directly address some of today’s biggest social challenges like housing, healthcare and education, whilst protecting and nourishing the free market.
A Win-Win Approach
Clearly there are many companies that contribute to standalone social responsibility projects, which do some great work. But most of these positive initiatives go virtually unknown by the vast majority of the public. As such, their impact is restricted and they do not encourage a broad philanthropic response. One of the biggest challenges, therefore, for modern philanthropy is to ensure that it is done in a high profile way that provides a win-win situation for those contributing and those receiving. In this way, free market organisations will be more willing to share their wealth and to be more altruistic? The capitalist, free market would be seen to be responding to people’s problems and seen to care.
Big Challenges Require Big Responses
The ambition of the Gates Foundation is not reduced by the size of the task; the challenge doesn’t get much bigger than curing the world of Malaria. Successful, modern philanthropy needs to be equally ambitious. Working together the UK free market could raise significant funds that could be used to finance positive and proactive, large-scale interventions – venture philanthropy.
An ambitious, proactive modern philanthropic response to the housing crisis is not to simply fund the building of a few more homes. It is actually to establish an infrastructure that can directly and meaningfully impact this challenge. Fund the establishment of factories that can build very large numbers of high-quality, pre-fabricated homes. Then work with local authorities to identify appropriate sites for development, whilst providing financial support for those who want to live in them. This would represent a radical, end-to-end home building echo system funded by the capitalist, free market.
Standing back and doing nothing could be very problematical for the free market. Modern philanthropy could be the free market’s visible and tangible recognition of the importance of society and its commitment to help address some of its bigger challenges. ‘We’re all in it together’ would actually be true.
Simon Lofthouse is a freelance marketing professional with over 25 years’ senior management experience. He’s passionate about the free market and its ability to transform society and improve lives.
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:
We have no message or narrative. No one really understands what Conservatism is all about, except in terms of austerity, economics and Brexit.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This 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.
Connor 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.
Workers have unfinished business with Uber and other gig economy businesses. Getting workers recognised as people, rather than commodities, is a battle they are winning thanks to pressure being brought to bear by politicians, trade unions and campaigners. This ongoing struggle may well have been delivered a fatal body blow by the actions of Transport for London in refusing Uber and operator licence to trade as a private hire company. Their reasons are quite inexplicable in that they cite the actions of drivers as well as Uber itself. The licensing of drivers is completely separate to the licensing of operators and conflating the two is curious. Some are saying this is complicity with the long run and high-profile campaign by London’s black cab drivers. Whether complicity or naivety on behalf of TFL is another debate but either way the impact can be far reaching and very negative to works not just of Uber but in the wider London economy and maybe beyond if TFLs actions set a precedent for other cities.
Uber has been here before. They were challenged in the court over the use of its app, over commercial insurance and on the use of call centres. TFL fought them and lost. On one occasion TFL won against Uber, on the English-speaking requirements for private hire drivers, and even this has been given court permission for an appeal. The lesson here is that TFL’s record on challenging Uber is derisory which makes their latest move to refuse an operators’ licence not only high risk for TFL but just as high risk for workers.
As one of the world’s largest cities where it operates, Uber will stop at nothing to keep hold of this market and have already begun the appeal process and you don’t need a crystal ball to know that this appeals process will be exhausted until they have nowhere else to go or until they win. Based on previous experience they will take on TFL and they will win. In doing so the way they currently operate, for better or worse, will have a legal endorsement in the form of a judgement in their favour. It could be argued that with last year’s landmark ruling that Uber ‘partners’ are employees and not self-employed shows that workers have had far more success when fighting Uber in the courts. With the ruling the workers had a firm foundation to demand rights such as minimum wage, holiday and sick pay, pensions, etc. All this could now well be put at risk with TFLs actions. Workers for Uber are now under immediate risk of a severely reduced income meaning less for them and their families and more reliance in state benefits. Many Uber workers will also have their cars on finance which places yet more angst and worry on them.
Workers outside Uber are also placed at risk. London has an excellent public transport network but not everywhere within TFL boundaries are well served. Ordering a private hire taxi may well be the only means of getting to and from work for many workers in the Greater London area. Uber maybe the only affordable means of transport and is now under threat. Workers may opt to walk or use less secure means of transport.
Toryworkers would prefer TFL to have continued to talk with Uber to achieve the safeguards they need for both workers and passengers. By going for the all or nothing option Uber will have little option but to fight for the status quo in order to exist at all in London and this is not good for workers.
David 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.