Britain’s poorer people and parts plumped for Brexit in June, and the Conservatives are the main party most associated with Leave, despite that fact that the then Tory Prime Minister, most of his Cabinet and a majority of Consevative MPs backed Remain.
It may therefore be that these natural Labour voters (or rather former natural Labour voters) will be willing to give the Party a second look in 2020. Perhaps Theresa May’s top team think so too – because it is difficult to find any other reason for a eye-catching change in her language.
Until recently, the favoured form of words for her favourite group of voters was “ordinary working people”. But now it seems to have morphed into “ordinary, working class people”. Consider this, for example, from her speech yesterday: “So where Labour build barriers, we will build bridges. That means tackling unfairness and injustice, and shifting the balance of Britain decisively in favour of ordinary working class people.”
So what about middle class people, against whom the balance of Britain will be shifted, if one is to read the Prime Minister’s words literally, along presumably with upper class people? It is a striking electoral tactic to diss one’s own core voters.
Maybe Downing Street thinks that we all want working class cred now, or that being middle class is inherently ridiculous, and that the second is all bound up with the first. Perhaps the gambit’s most astonishing aspect of all is that the Conservative Party thinks it can get away with it.
Then again, perhaps not. What has Labour been doing for the workers recently, other than keeping them out of work, at the lower-earning end, or putting downward pressure on their wages in that circumstance, by flinging the migration door wide open? Hence the muscle behind much of the Brexit vote. Poorer voters are abandoning traditional socialist parties all over Europe. Number Ten will have noticed.
The raising of the tax threshold, free schools, the new Living Wage, record employment, record NHS spending (though it is never enough): the Coalition did quite a bit for poorer voters. As Home Secretary, May even got non-EU net migration down for a bit. But there I go, confusing income with class. Mind you, I’m not the only one.
David Cameron would never have got away with it. Can you imagine the raspberry he would have got had he and George Osborne claimed that they wanted to shift the balance of Britain decisively in favour of ordinary working class people?
Why, then, does Theresa May stand a chance of making the claim stand? After all, she is solidly middle class herself. Perhaps it has something to do with being a Vicar’s daughter. The clergy are by and large middle class, but are the only occupational group in that class to live among poorer people in large numbers. The Anglo-Catholic tradition in which the Prime Minister was raised had a preferential option for the poor long before the phrase was invented.
But the most likely explanation is the chaos of Labour and disarray of UKIP, though the latter may lessen if Steven Woolfe or Paul Nuttall take charge. Perhaps May is taking a leaf out of the Thatcher book, too. The latter spoke of an “irreversible shift…of power…in favour of working people and their families”.
She was apeing Tony Benn. Come to think of it, her gambit wasn’t electorally unsuccessful – far from it. The Prime Minister’s circle will be aware of that, too. Graeme Archer will be writing more about all this on ConservativeHome in his column tomorrow.