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.
At 9pm last Thursday I was worried. Sat on my own in McDonald’s, having a calorie packed break between a day of canvassing and evening of analysing, I had my first opportunity to reflect on the campaign. I was certain that the Conservatives would end the night with a majority of over 60, but couldn’t shake off the feeling that our victory would be as shallow as it would be big. The reports I’d received from around the country – London excluded – at first appearance were good. Long-time Labour voters were telling our people that they would switch to the Conservatives, most often after dabbling with Ukip in 2015.
When you delved deeper the momentum was less impressive. To near unanimity the reasons these ex-Labour voters gave for breaking their life-long abstinence from voting blue was negativity towards the Labour leadership. None of them seemed to be positive about us. As I finished my chips I’d concluded that ex-Labour voters would only be lending the Conservative Party their votes, and we would have to work hard over the next five years to get them to happily vote for us. At 10pm, when the exit poll was announced, I realised that most of these people had decided to lend their vote to Corbyn.
It is not hard to understand why people who instinctively support Labour, in the end when their pen was hovering over the ballot paper, could not bring themselves to mark a cross next to the Conservative candidate. The Conservative General Election campaign was depressing. Our message was that the world is rubbish but please vote for us as we are best at making rubbish decisions. Those who work in the public sector or have not seen a pay-rise in many years were being asked to choose between a Government that would continue to mange the slow decline of their lifestyles or the chaotic unknown. After almost a decade of austerity the chaotic unknown seemed less of a threat than another decade of 1% pay-rises.
The Conservatives did not show their heart. We did not say why we wanted to govern and what we wanted to achieve for people. What is the point of having a strong and stable economy? What will the best Brexit mean for me? The Party missed a golden opportunity to tell those who would not normally ever give us a chance that we care about them. There are large swaths of the population who mistrust our motives and we did not offer them the opportunity to change their minds.
None of this should have been a surprise. Robert Halfon MP, in a speech at the end of March, warned us that “the Left have an incredible, powerful message, which is very simple when they knock on a door, which is that they want to help the underdog; that they are the party for the poor.”
On Thursday evening I thought I’d be writing a blog warning Conservatives not to get carried away with the size of our victory. Instead, let us not be too despondent at the result. Yes, the Party made big mistakes but we have the chance to make amends. The Party performed badly, rather than Conservatives being bad. Let’s wear our Conservative hearts on our sleeves. At every opportunity we get lets tell people why we are Conservatives – because we want the best for them and their families.
Last month I had the greatest pleasure in attending the inaugural conference of the Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists (CWTU), jointly hosted by DEMOS. The Conference theme was on ‘The Future of Work’ although quite a few different issues were discussed.
As a relatively new Conservative Party member with a predominantly business background, but also a passionate advocate of Trade Unions, I was hoping this event might give me some insight and perhaps even reassurance that there were many other like-minded Conservative supporters in existence. I wasn’t disappointed given the numbers of delegates in attendance.
Often the Conservative Party is seen as anti-union, and indeed even some within the Party may not have Union relations top of the priority list. Both perspectives usually stem from misinformation or unfair media portrayal of unions. Like it or not, and I personally like it, there are two key reasons why we should take our union relations seriously. Firstly, there are approaching seven million members of trades unions in this country, the vast majority having a high propensity to vote, many in marginal seats. To be blunt we cannot afford to marginalise such a core group of voters. Secondly, cordial relations, or dare I say it proactive relations, act as a moral and social compass from a policy perspective. One example is Workers Rights. Pleasingly the Prime Minister has assured us that our exit from the EU will result in better not fewer rights for workers. Comprehensive rights at work should be valued by Conservatives. If we preach things like self-reliance rather than relying on the state, looking after your family and getting on in life then how are such values contradicted by rights giving secure, stable employment with decent benefits and promotion prospects? They aren’t. They are complimentary not contradictory.
One reform that would greatly benefit Trades Unions in the long term, although would be fiercely resisted by some, is to restrict party political activities. The nature of trades unions is that they will always be political beasts. However persistently we have seen member subscriptions wasted on party political grandstanding or initiatives by General Secretaries on subjects far removed from the core trade union function, that of acting for member’s interests in the workplace. The current election for Unite General Secretary has highlighted this very point. There isn’t a Labour or Conservative way of dealing with health and safety in workplace. Why is the status of Trident of significant interest to a shop worker being bullied at work?
Rights of the self-employed are obviously topical given the issues around National Insurance changes and subsequent postponement of them in the budget. This is a challenging area and always will be. In my experience the self-employed fall into two camps – those who have made a free choice to become self-employed with all it has to offer and those who have been pushed into it, for a variety of reasons. To my thinking none of these issues will be resolved until we undertake some radical reform of our welfare system. There are so many benefits and entitlements now that are not directly linked to contributions history that it is virtually impossible to define who should receive what and why. Entitlement should be driven by what you have contributed not just by your employment status. Perhaps the Government should consider a levy on companies that exceed a certain threshold of self-employed service contractors they engage, that to all intents and purposes are employees?
The other hot potato of ‘zero hours’ contracts was also discussed at conference. There are strong views on either side. Most of the general arguments are polarised – either employees are being ruthlessly exploited by Fagin style employers or else they are a serene ‘marriage of convenience’ enabling no-strings employment. The truth of course is somewhere in-between. My thinking on this is that too often we focus on dealing with symptoms of issues rather than root causes. The issue is not that employers routinely abuse zero hours contracts but that we must do more to support and incentivise permanent employment. If there were scope we need to look at Employer National Insurance (NI) liability and reducing the general tax burden on employers. Perhaps even a lower rate of Employer NI for permanent staff?
The highlight for me at Conference was the keynote speech by our President, Rob Halfon. A mix of positivity interspersed with realism, his thinking on the challenges facing our party is refreshing and engaging. As a Party we do need to be clearer and talk more loudly and convincingly about our key achievements such as in apprenticeships and reducing unemployment. We need to be clearer on busting myths around public spending eg that we don’t provide enough support to those with disabilities when actually our spending in this country compares very favourably internationally.
We are genuinely erecting not just a ladder of opportunity but also on occasion someone to steady the ladder if needs be.
Despite a smorgasbord of achievement to talk about perhaps there’s a danger we become defined as the ‘not Corbyn’ option and struggle to convey our own positive agenda. The medium term reality is that Corbyn will be gone, replaced by someone more able at the dispatch box, albeit probably not more desirable in policy terms. In my opinion the test we should aspire to apply is if it were a Tony Blair type of figure as Opposition Leader where would that leave us?
Fortunately, we have a Prime Minister in Mrs May who is able to tackle issues head on with a positive policy agenda and deliver a fairer and more prosperous country as a result. Not everyone will agree with everything all the time but leadership is not about popularity. Leadership is about doing the right thing.
The opportunities are ahead of us, as they are for trades unions, it is just a case of recognising and seizing the moment. Judging from the CWTU conference I know that we will play as full and as active a role as possible.
Ian Jones is Honorary Treasurer of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists, an ex-Trade Union representative and an Independent Financial Adviser based in the New Forest. He can be found tweeting @ianajones925
Things are changing fast in the world of work – in response to advancing technology and social pressures.
Whereas many people of my parents’ generation worked for the same employer in the same sector for 30 or 40 years, this will become increasingly rare.
Even if people remain in the same line of work, it will probably not be for the same company. If it is for the same company, then it may not be under the same arrangement.
Fixed employer-employee relationships will increasingly be replaced by more flexible arrangements. In some firms, workers may well become self-employed contractors instead of salaried staff.
As newer disruptive technology emerges, some sectors may just decline, some may disappear to be replaced by others. Some may adapt…as must we.
As well as changing jobs and roles in the course of our working lives, we can also expect more people to pursue ‘portfolio’ careers. They will have multiple sources of income at the same time, possibly in very different fields and probably into later life.
So we will need to be serious about lifelong learning. We used to think an apprenticeship or degree would equip us with all the training and knowledge we would need to do a certain job for the rest of our working lives. Not any more. Even if we stay in the same job, it’s nature and skill requirements are likely to change.
This is where I believe trade unions and mutual societies still have a major role to play; by doing what they used to do so well, offering their members access to retraining programme, libraries, evening classes, health schemes and mutual savings groups.
Membership of trade unions has declined for many reasons. While some well-paid trade union bosses are seen as wanting to run the country or opposing change, many employees no longer see the relevance of membership.
The changing nature of work offers trade unions a chance to re-focus on the long term needs of their members. As people change jobs or become contractors, unions can advise them how to proceed. They have a history of helping working people and they need to find their true purpose again.
And what does the government need to do? First, government needs to get out of the way and not stand in the way of new, disruptive technologies – either by intent or accident. They must let new industries come forward. They should do what they can to make sure the same encouragement and climate for innovation is available outside London and the South East too.
But then government must think hard about those who lose out from this disruption and from globalisation. We cannot simply leave those who lose their jobs, especially in single-factory towns, to fend for themselves.
We must consider how we can create the space for trade unions, mutual societies and other cooperatives to offer advice and retraining to those who lose their jobs rather than leaving them to a life of benefits and job centre appointments.
Consider the worker who has been laid off by a company but is given a grant or a loan by a trade union to start up a business, along with training and support. Newly empowered entrepreneurs benefiting from this assistance are more likely to be open to retaining membership of a trade union and encouraging their staff to join a union too.
It would be wonderful to see government trade unions and cooperatives work together on lifelong support and training for our workers.
We Conservatives saved this country from the tyranny of the militant trade union leaders in the 1970s and 1980s. An even bigger challenge might be to save trade unions from irrelevance by encouraging them truly to serve their members throughout their ever-changing working lives.
Syed Kamall is Conservative MEP for London – you can find more on his website at syedkamall.co.uk
James Worron is CWTU’s Resident Historian who will be writing regular features looking back at the historic relationship between Conservatives and trade unions.
“We were elected to reform the trade unions. With the support of millions of trade unionists, we have passed two major acts of Parliament,” so stated Margaret Thatcher in her 1982 Party Conference speech. This sums up the Conservative party’s mixed relationship with trade unions: sympathetic to the membership but wary of the leadership and the sheer power of these institutions.
This complex relationship has been framed by some enduring conflicts. Conservatives have never liked the closed shop – a clear assault on workers’ freedom, and of course have opposed the political levy, which funds the Labour party. However, co-operation has also been a feature of the complex three-way relationship between Conservatives, trade unions and business.
Many workers themselves were also historically ambivalent about trade unions, and it is worth remembering that at any one time most workers were not members. Historically, unions wielded a lot of power on the factory shop floor, at times with their own agenda only party aligned with workers’ interests. In the graphic words of a respondent to one 1950s study, trade unions “piss in the same pot as management.” Working class Conservatives voters have been amongst the most sceptical about trade unions, thinking they would “keep a man back.”
Near the start of the industrial revolution trade unions were effectively banned under the 1799/1800 Combination Acts, although these were rarely enforced as government wanted to leave that to employers and not interfere. Not for the last time Conservatives were unsure how the triangular relationship between government, business and the unions should work.
The governments of the Earl of Derby and Disraeli in the late nineteenth century were pro-worker and this was reflected in union policy. The Molestation of Workmen Act 1859 allowed peaceful picketing, and the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875, allowed workers to pursue legitimate trade disputes and not liable to be sued if their actions were lawful. Disraeli’s aim was that these measures should “settle the long and vexatious dispute between capital and labour.” Randolph Churchill warned Conservatives a few years later not to be too sympathetic to capital.
It was not just about “sides” though. Conservatives were working out how the three-way business/union/government relationship would work. In the late 19th century there was talk of enforcing compulsory arbitration, but eventually a voluntary approach was enshrined in the 1896 Conciliation (Trade Disputes) Act.
In the 20th century the idea of partnership of between industry and trade unions began to emerge, and this idea was pushed by all party leaders for the first 40 years of the century. During this period there was the great conflict of the General Strike, which led to the 1927 Trade Union Act, banning general strikes and limiting the closed shop. Nevertheless Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin did not wish to introduce too harsh an act. In the 1930s more radical ideas began to emerge, with Harold MacMillan promoting the idea that the government should itself be part of the partnership.
This idea of partnership reached its peak during the Second World War. Trade unions were at the centre of Britains’s war effort, placed on key committees and in industrial councils. Churchill strongly supported this process, and after the war declared “We owe an immense debt of gratitude to the trade unions, and never can this country forget how they stood by and helped”. This alone should remind Conservatives of trade unions’ positive potential.
After the war, thrown into Opposition, the Conservatives published the Industrial Charter. This declared that the party was in favour of trade unions, and would “humanise” capitalism. This led to the Conservatives most pro-union period in government after 1951. There were regular meetings at No 10 and anti-union legislation was explicitly rejected. In retrospect, this period seems a prelude industrial anarchy of the 1970s, and even by the early 60s the voluntary approach was proving a bad way to control inflation. The government only had exhortation to encourage wage restraint. Twenty years later Margaret Thatcher took a more robust approach.
Where next then? Trade union power is clearly restrained, and the closed shop is gone for good. Can a new relationship be built in a modern setting? The unions’ political affiliation remains the biggest obstacle. The case for breaking this link is strong, but Conservatives need to be realistic about the scale of this challenge. Contrary to myth the unions have not been captured by Labour. The trade unions created the Labour party as their Parliamentary vehicle. The cost of this has been making relationships with other parties more difficult and Labour and the unions may well have a better future apart, but this would be a huge and historic sundering.
James is the CWTU Historian and a member of the National Organising Committee. You can follow him on Twitter: @Jamesworron.