Rob Halfon is not a machine gun politician, he’s a sniper. Where some throw hundreds of soundbites and ideas at the media in the hope that one will hit its target, he thinks long and hard about where he should locate himself, eyes up his objective through his scope and plugs away until the job is done.
That persistence is a foundation of his success in things that others might have given up on far earlier. After decades of increasing taxes on motorists, Halfon refused to accept the idea that there was no other way and so he set about building a coalition of voters and the nation’s most-read newspaper. It worked, and he has ended up with a seat at the Cabinet table.
In an interview with his ally, The Sun, today he discusses his plan for that radicalism to continue now he is Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party. Characteristically, he’s out to drive home another of his campaigns:
“When we knock on people’s doors, I want people to know we are on their side – on the side of the workers, that we are the workers,” Mr Halfon insisted. “And when they do think that, who knows what could happen…”
“…We are the party of the ladder, it was Churchill who first said that. The ladder symbolises everything we’re about. If you’re in poverty we’ll get you into work, if you’re in work we’ll cut your taxes. If you want to own your home, we’ll help you do that too. It’s not just leaving people to climb up it themselves, we hold that ladder for them.”
“Labour on the other hand are the party of dependency and the welfare state, and that’s why they didn’t get in.”
It’s an established Halfon theme. Here he is almost a year ago on ConservativeHome:
“If Labour’s mission is about fighting poverty, ours is about aspiration. We are the party of the ladder. If you are poor, Conservatives can provide ladders out of benefits and into work; if you are in work, Conservatives will cut taxes; if you want to own your home, Conservatives will provide a ladder for right to buy, or help to buy, and if you want to choose the best school and hospital to suit you or your family, Conservatism will make sure you have that opportunity.”
This is the sniper approach in action – targeted and doggedly persistent. When he first suggested that the Conservatives were “the workers’ party”, and cited the ladder as the image of Conservatism, some dismissed it and others ignored it. Yet here it is, now at the top of the party.
This site has long believed that transforming our party’s reputation must also involve transforming the Conservative Party itself. Present a different message with the same machine, the same institutions and the same voices and the electorate wisely sense a new coat of paint rather than a genuinely changed organisation. The meritocracy, openness and aspiration that Halfon champions – the vision of a ladder society – should work to improve the Conservative movement just as they would work for the nation at large.
Not one to skimp on consistency, Halfon’s first priority is to bring about precisely that internal change, as part of the full review that Lord Feldman announced here last Friday:
‘That means turning the Conservatives into “the modern trade union movement for working people”. The party membership fee should also be slashed from £25 down to just £1 for ordinary Brits. And many more blue collar workers on average annual salaries of £26,000 must be pushed to stand as Tory MPs, Mr Halfon added.’
Again, I’m pleased to say this is more than in keeping with ConservativeHome’s mission. Tim Montgomerie first studied the exorbitant costs of becoming a candidate – a clear block to those on lower incomes becoming Tory MPs – back in 2006. And as I argued in November, cutting the cost of joining the Conservatives is a key first step in growing our movement (the second step is increasing the benefits of involvement):
‘We currently ask people to pay for the privilege of leafleting in all weathers, giving up their time to attend meetings and receiving the brunt of anti-politics feeling from strangers whose doors they knock on. It’s a product best suited for masochists, and sales are limited. It should be possible to ‘buy’ membership with activism; in countless associations across the country people are in shorter supply than money.’
In short, Halfon is out to build a new Party - that’s no small task, but his past record suggests that he is more than capable of performing feats others never even tried because they thought them impossible. If that isn’t his vision of conservatism in action, I don’t know what is.