George Grant is the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Bradford West.
When the Labour Party set-up shop in 1900, their founding father Keir Hardie encapsulated the new movement’s vision simply and succinctly: “to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour”. It was, and remains, an admirable ambition.
Some will argue that Labour’s present travails stem from its losing sight of this vision; that it has been hijacked by a bunch of rarefied, quinoa-chomping, latte-sippers from north London who wouldn’t know the meaning of “labour” if it were smelted in iron.
Certainly, Ed Miliband does appear the very embodiment of this new cosmopolitanism, ensconced atop Primrose Hill with nobody but his Guardian-reading friends and some chap called Gareth for company.
And yet there is a great deal that Hardie and Miliband have in common, together with the wider Labour movement. For they all, from then to now, see themselves as the true guardians of Britain’s poor.
In October 1974 the then Labour leader, Harold Wilson, spelled out this philosophy: “What we as democratic socialists maintain is that when the going is toughest it is more than ever necessary to base our policies on social justice, to protect the weak, the poor, the disabled, to help those least able to help themselves.” On the face of it, there can surely be few people of any political persuasion who would disagree with this sentiment, but herein is precisely where the danger lies.
The road to hell, as the old saying goes, is paved with good intentions, and never was this maxim more aptly applied than to the philosophy of the Labour Party. Because stripped right down, this is an agenda not of empowerment, but emasculation.
In today’s politics the message of empowerment is essential, as the SNP have demonstrated conclusively in Scotland. Never mind that, policy-wise, the SNP and Labour are not so very far apart, the rallying cry of “Scots for Scotland” is an exceedingly powerful one, made all the more so – ironically – by the removal of the prospect of outright independence as a sting in the tail.
The same is true of UKIP, where in a not dissimilar way, Nigel Farage’s gang offer an emotive alternative to “the Westminster parties” and a message of empowerment. Scratch below the surface and you discover that most UKIP policies have as much credibility as a pre-election pledge by Nick Clegg not to raise tuition fees, but that, for now, appears immaterial.
Labour, by contrast, offer a message not very far removed from hopelessness. They are like some strangely well-meaning mafia who travel round the country demanding protection money, in their case votes, from poorer sections of the electorate in return for fending off the forces of evil: the bosses, the energy companies, the landlords, and of course their alleged paymasters, “the Tories”.
The great challenge for the Conservatives is to conclusively demonstrate that this characterisation is utter rubbish, and that – unlike UKIP – they have the credible policies of empowerment to prove it. On the contrary, it is in fact Labour who are doing the real damage to the very people they seek to protect.
The most obvious manifestation of this has of course been the disconnection of the welfare state from its founding principles, wherein welfare became less a safety net that caught and more a web that entangled, often inextricably.
The Government’s welfare reforms are certainly not without their difficulties, yet many of the objections emanating from Labour and their fellow travellers have centred on the principle of the reforms themselves. They have been vilified as “anti the poor”; an “attack on the most vulnerable”. Such accusations belie a great deal about the mindset of the accusers.
Theirs is a view that holds “the poor” to be a fixed and definable section of society. And yet, thought about for a moment, is this not monstrous? People move out of poverty and people move into poverty. It should never be an unchanging status for life. These reforms are not “anti the poor”; they are anti poverty, and that is how it should always be.
It is the same principle that lies behind the Conservative commitments to raise the minimum wage; to raise the tax-free threshold; to cut income tax; to offer rate relief to small businesses; and to lower corporation tax to the lowest level in the developed world.
Here is revealed a fundamental difference between the Conservatives and Labour. Labour seek to help people in poverty; the Conservatives seek to help people out of poverty. When Labour see a person in distress, their instinct is to ask “how can I help this person”. When Conservatives see the same, their instinct is to ask “how can I help this person help themselves.”
And the difference runs deeper than welfare. Take education, and the tyranny of low expectations that characterised Labour’s approach to poorer students for years. Just one of many examples, besides grade inflation, was the last Labour government’s decision to explicitly remove the requirement to award a set number of marks for correct spelling, punctuation and grammar in examinations, for fear it unfairly discriminated against children from less advantaged backgrounds. Where did that leave these children when released into the real world of the workplace at the end of it?
Or take the family; the bedrock of society. Labour’s concern has been a misplaced preoccupation with not being seen to stigmatise those who suffer the trauma of family breakdown, or even those who have never had a proper family at all. Proposing that marriage remains the best place in which to raise children has been seen as judgemental, as opposed to a statement of the blindingly obvious.
The Conservatives have been emphatic in their support for marriage, whilst the Government’s Troubled Families Programme does invaluable work helping struggling families stay together rather than waiting to pick up the pieces when they fall apart.
In August of this year, I was selected to fight the northern inner-city seat of Bradford West (present incumbent, George Galloway MP). In the two years since his modestly self-styled “Bradford Spring” by-election win, Mr Galloway has well and truly busted his flush. He has done so by doing what he always does: using his Parliamentary seat as little more than a platform for his globetrotting self-aggrandisement, much to the dismay of the many thousands who voted for him in 2012.
No: in 2015, Bradford West will be Labour’s to lose. Yet it is my strong contention that it is the people of Bradford West, and the people of Labour-embedded constituencies like it across the land, who will lose from five more years of Labour after the next election.
It must be the mission of the Conservatives to persuade the less advantaged in our society that Conservative values are in fact the right ones for success: pro-enterprise, pro-self-reliance; pro-lower taxes for the poorest; pro-family; and no excuses for low expectations in education.
For more than a century now, Labour have fashioned themselves as the only party with the interests of Britain’s poor at heart. I say that Britain’s poor have had enough of the fruits of their benevolence.