Patryk Malinski, who is standing as a council candidate in Hounslow next year,
I was really glad to see the recent publication of the Renewal group's booklet Access All Areas, in which the authors, not always in agreement with each other, generate ideas for broadening the appeal of the Conservative Party. Such publications are welcome because they are stimulating intellectually and ensure that complacency doesn't creep in and that the party develops in the right direction.
I would like to share my thoughts on Shaun Bailey's essay entitled “Engaging with ordinary working people”. The reason for picking this particular text is twofold: Firstly, it concerns me directly as I fall in the wage bracket that was defined by Mr Bailey in his article (between £15k and £40k). Secondly, as a member of the Conservative Party, I also want to ensure that our image is improved among the ordinary, working people.
I must admit I am disappointed by Mr Bailey's proposal mainly because, in my opinion, it offers very little substance. The author concentrates on changing the way the Conservatives communicate – but this seems to be limited to repeating messages about fulfilling some vague “promises”. For instance, I am not sure how “a consistency of message coming from MP’s” can change anything if the message itself is not clearly defined.
When Mr Bailey says that “this repetition might appear dull to the press, but the public never grow tired of hearing how their concerns are being dealt with”, I honestly think it's actually the other way round. The media live off the politicians' little bubble, but the public are increasingly tired of being patronised by bland rhetoric.
Other ways of broadening our appeal include, according to Mr Bailey, making sure that “politicians from working class and minority backgrounds must be visible to the public”, “ carefully choosing speakers and venues that are designed to add to the effectiveness of our message” and “the Prime Minister making a speech addressing working people, and the desire to see Great Britain working again”. To me, it all seems too concentrated on rhetoric and form rather than REAL action.
To be fair to Mr Bailey, he does propose some real ideas for housing, small businesses and crime. Some of them are interesting but lacking in detail, like “housing strategy that builds a large number and wide variety of homes including council houses."
Some are really useful, like “setting a standard of 30 days in which small businesses must be paid for goods or services provided” and some are outright populist, like “tagging particular types of offenders systematically e.g. convicted paedophiles or other serious violent offenders to allow police and other authorities to track their location 24 hours a day.” Mr Bailey also mentions the rising cost of living but fails to propose a constructive solution to tackle this crucial problem.
What practical steps, then, can be taken to ensure that ordinary, working people see the improvement brought about by the Conservatives rather than just hear us pandering to them? Here is my little idea. There is little doubt that the Conservative-led government has done a lot to improve the situation of the lowest and the highest paid workers, but sadly it has been achieved at the cost of those in the middle. The increase of the personal allowance to £10,000 and the cut of the highest tax rate to 45% are highly commendable, but just look what has recently happened with the 40% threshold affecting those in the middle:
2010 – 2011 – £37,401
2011 – 2012 – £35,001
2012 – 2013 – £34,371
2013 – 2014 – £32,011
Year in, year out more and more people are dragged into the higher rate of tax. With the rise of VAT, the annual rise in property rents (just a reminder that the current average age of first-time buyer is 37 which means more and more people are renting), energy and food bills, and council tax – one thing that the Conservatives could offer is either a cut in the higher rate of tax to 35 per cent or a significant increase of the threshold. This would ensure that we are supporting ordinary, working people in a proper, conservative way by taxing them less. More importantly, however, this would be a tangible solution that would be immediately felt and appreciated by the voters.
Many Conservative councils are in touch with ordinary people and, rather than “reinforcing the message”, do the practical thing. For example the Conservative Hammersmith & Fulham Council has managed to cut the Council Tax by 17 per cent in 7 years.
Personally, I am planning to stand for Hounslow Council next year and I will do my best to emulate my neighbouring council's achievement. In the times of economical hardship and uncertainties, leaving more money in people's pockets is the best practical policy for us in order to connect with ordinary, working people. It would be fantastic if we could get some support with this from the Conservative backbenchers, local activists and, hopefully, the Conservative-led government.