Tories are a bit more cheery. Well, on domestic matters,
certainly. The painful fiscal plan finally seems to be working: various
indicators in recent weeks suggest Britain is bordering on healthier economic
Sure, Cameron can’t get cocky. Serious problems need
confronting: the squeeze on living standards for those on modest incomes, most
notably. But ignore those who advise Cabinet members to moderate positivity. Optimism
is crucial for Conservatives.
The British Conservative Party has been most successful
electorally when it offers the hope of a better future, especially for those on
modest incomes. Think Macmillan’s 1959 Election victory, based on a decade of
rises in the wage of industrial workers who “never had it so good”. Or Thatcher’s
Right to Buy policy in the 1980s, which was so popular because it enabled thousands
of people living in council houses to achieve their dream of home ownership.
Very soon, the Chancellor should champion an emerging boom and
promise future tax cuts and an increase in the minimum wage for working
families who have persevered through austerity.
Such a strategy risks overconfidence being levelled at
Tories, but the worse – and more
accurate – criticism is that of a tendency to be cynical. Too many in our Party
fall to this: to sound uncomfortable and disappointed with the modern world,
believing it to be disordered and sullied. Immigration, secularism,
homosexuality: these and more are supposedly dragging Britain under. Call it
Let’s expose this for what it is. First, wrong: on a whole
range of indicators, from personal finances to standards of health, life is
getting better for most over the long-term. Second, sneering: not at an
impersonal entity, ‘the modern world’, but the people who live in it, with all
our diversity and complexities. It is deeply patronising.
Right-wing politics like this belittles and excludes people.
Notable moments in Conservative Party history as a result of this ugly mindset
include the anti-immigration “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968 and Section 28 of
the Local Government Act which banned the promotion of homosexuality in
schools. The Party today is still building bridges with these respective and
growing communities, still hampering its political chances.
We need to invite people in, not shut them out. This answers
another lingering problem with the contemporary Conservative Party – the
perception that it is protective of the interests of the well-heeled, rather
than extending opportunities for prosperity to all. From now until the election, it must prioritise
new, bold policies that open doors for the less privileged.
Conservatism is at its most inspiring when it says it
doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, but what you do. Work hard, be
kind and responsible, and you should and will be rewarded, eventually. Your
values, not your identity, is what matters. Simple. Compelling.
Not only does the narrative take on the reactionary right,
but the pessimism of the left, which spreads the idea that people’s life
chances are largely determined by factors out of their control such as poverty
and inequality, rather than individual will and resourcefulness. This leads to
identity politics, where certain social groups are asked to be view and treated
differently, perpetuating stereotypes and fuelling division. No. It doesn’t
have to be like this. Today’s Conservatism should be hopeful about all human
potential, encouraging all to unite around enduring values.
There is a space for the modern Conservative Party here: to
be a party for optimists – about the future of individual people and also our
country. It is clear way to
differentiate ourselves from our political opponents: after all, our time in
Government has encouraged Labour, and the Liberal Democrats to a certain extent,
to be constant bugbears resisting ambitious reform – free schools or the
Universal Credit – rather than creators of imaginative policies.
Give us some more optimism, David. This is the way to
inspire those who have traditionally shunned us to vote Conservative in 2015.