James Frayne is Director of communications agency Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion. The focus of this column is Theresa May’s conservatism for “ordinary working people”.
Appealing to the values of those who are just about managing.
This Tuesday column describes policies that might appeal to those just about managing – the mass of C1/C2 voters particularly prevalent in provincial England. Most policies have focused on improving their material wellbeing – for example, targeted tax cuts and improving childcare. But as I’ve occasionally noted, these voters aren’t driven by practical policies alone. They’re values voters too – and the most powerful of these values are family and fairness.
Over the last decade, the party pushed cultural policies and ideas with urban and metropolitan voters in mind. Some were welcome and made both moral and political sense – for example, policies designed to reverse discrimination against minorities. Others, like the development budget target, were misplaced. Either way, their cultural policies ignored lower middle class provincial England. This must change.
We look set for a major cultural battle over our exit from Europe. By putting themselves unambiguously on the side of those that voted Leave and/or want the referendum result respected, the Tories could make great strides with these historically floating voters. This battle will likely be brutal and time consuming, but worth the effort politically – and the cultural battle is worth extending into other areas. The Tories should move on to human rights.
At the end of summer, Liz Truss underlined the Government’s commitment to repealing the Human Rights Act. If and when it happens, it looks likely the Act will effectively be replaced by a British Bill of Rights. Will the Government dump the ECHR with the Human Rights Act? Despite the Prime Minister’s historic opposition to the ECHR, this seems unlikely.
Like the last Tory Government, this one seems petrified about the prospect of a major battle on human rights. They’re wrong to be fearful. While they need to ensure human rights policies are credible and respectful of human rights, the public, and the just managing classes particularly, would massively support significant change.
It all goes back to the value of fairness that the public hold so dear. Unfairness truly drives the English public mad with rage. On human rights, fundamentally people think that recent laws are unfair and that they’re regularly abused to help those that don’t deserve it. The public have been hearing endless case studies of unfairness for years – and conversations with voters now regularly throw up stories they’ve read or heard about and want action on.
The Government should get on and replace the Human Rights Act fast. But in doing so, the Government should make it clear that this marks not an assault on human rights (which it isn’t) but rather a major campaign to promote fairness within British society. Many hostile activists will question whether such moves can be described as fair. If the Government holds firm and fights on this issue publicly, the more the issue is discussed the more they will win and their opponents will lose. All controversy on this issue is good controversy.