Scott Bell is a Regulatory Compliance Manager at an investment manager in the City, and a Conservative activist in South East London.
We have seen in recent weeks and months aggressive dividing lines drawn within our party as a result of a certain referendum. It is no secret that Conservatives across the country are engaged in heated debates – which are certain to be a continued focus of the press. During times like these, it is important to remind ourselves about why we are Conservatives and what the party stands for at its core. No matter what the stories of the day may be, our core values unify us as a party and have helped to create the greatest electoral force in history.
Conservatives are a broad, diverse group from all backgrounds. Having sampled the main parties and even interned for a Labour MP in my younger days, my path to the party was not a straightforward one. Ingrained on my political compass, however, no matter how long it took me to reach the Party itself, are the Conservative beliefs of individual freedom – social and personal responsibility and a passion to see everyone have the opportunity to achieve their potential. Bearing this in mind, I want to discuss why I’m a Conservative and why we as a party should remember what brings us together.
Growing up in Hull, as I did, politics was simple: Labour was synonymous for good and the Conservatives bad. Stories scattered with expletives from family and friends in mining and industrial towns across Yorkshire testified to this. It is no secret that people’s views are often shaped during their childhood by their surroundings and experiences. I’m not from a traditional Tory household: my mother was a dinner lady at the local primary school and my dad worked in the accounting department for a Grimsby fishing firm. But three aspects of my childhood shaped my politics and my support for the Conservative party.
The first was the adoption of me and my twin brother at an early age. We were adopted from a single mother in East Yorkshire to my parents in Hull a few weeks before my adopted mother would have been ineligible to adopt due to age. This was certainly a very sensitive experience for everyone involved, and has shaped me more than I probably care to realise. I’ll be the first to say it hasn’t always been an easy road, there have been times of upset and despair, but adoption is something we should talk about more and celebrate in our society.
The fantastic work of the social care system in finding me and my brother a home, coupled with an endless commitment by our adopted parents to raise us as their own, without a doubt boosted our chances in life by an immeasurable amount. We were the first in our family to go to university and to migrate down south to London – a fact my proud parents love telling everyone they meet down the shops or in the gym. Not all children are as lucky. 62 per cent of children in care are there because of abuse or neglect, and just half of looked-after children have ‘normal’ emotional and behavioural health. This area of social policy really embodies why I’m a Conservative: the message that no child should be left behind is key to the party’s One Nation drive. A lot of great work has been done by this Government, but there is still much more to do.
The second factor stems from spending a lot of time visiting families in the estates of East Hull. Whilst most were good people, the levels of anti-social and violent behaviour are simply unacceptable in modern Britain. A sense of hopelessness can be felt across the estates: levels of unemployment are too high and educational attainment too low. The Hull estates are by no means the worse; my experience living close to the Manor estate in Sheffield is echoed by people up and down the country: there are thousands of people across Britain living lives marked by violence, educational underachievement, unemployment and sickness. The Conservative Party is the party of hope and work; areas like Hull East exemplify the fantastic work this Government is doing through the national living wage, back-to- work schemes and record employment levels. When I visit Hull, I am proud to talk about the Conservative Party and what we are doing to help deprived areas – it is a message we should take head on to Labour at the upcoming local elections across the country.
The third influence has to do with the power of local civil society. As a teenager, I took part in the Young Enterprise scheme at the local comprehensive school I attended. This programme is a partnership between local government, charity and local businesses, and sees a group of young people go through the process of setting up their own business, issuing share capital and bringing a product to market. The programme gave me the belief that I could achieve in life, an appreciation of local business and a conviction that small businesses and local people are the best drivers of a struggling economy. They have the power and knowledge to boost prosperity, skills and the confidence of an area. Our beliefs in business and that power and influence are best administered at a local level really does have the ability to transform lives for the better. I am testament to this.
In the months ahead, we all look forward to a healthy debate on Europe. Each of us finds the party in different ways and from different backgrounds; despite the disagreements to come in the party, I hope you agree with me that our belief in the core values of conservatism unifies us no matter what lies ahead of us or, indeed, how we got here.