Cllr Rowena Davis is a journalist and a Labour councillor in Southwark. She's a warm and intelligent lady. I met her last year when we were both supposed to be reviewing the newspapers on Sky TV and instead found ourselves invited to offer our expertise on the developing grim news of Japanese tsunami.
Anyway she has been at the Conservative conference and has written an account for the New Statesman. She praises those Tories she has encountered who were obviously decent people concerned with providing better opportunities for all people – the "small guy" not just the "rich guy." Jesse Norman MP, Shaun Bailey, Gavin Barwell MP, Kris Hopkins MP, Tim Montgomerie and Lord Ashcroft were among those she praised reporting back from her tour of the conference fringe.
She concluded that as they were decent people they must be "One Nation Conservatives" by which she meant they were on the Left of the Conservative Party. She contrasts them with George Osborne and John Redwood whom she regards as having a "negative vision" and no concern for the "small guy" and so "to the right of the Daily Mail." What I suspect this tells us is that Cllr Davis hasn't met Mr Redwood or Mr Osborne. One Nation Conservatives, who are concerned for the "small guy" to succeed, turn out to be those Conservatives she has met.
An example of the difficulty in trying to classify policies as left wing or right wing comes with the Government's Troubled Families programme. It is being run by Eric Pickles and shows early signs of success. It is about reducing welfare burdens on the state, tackling crime and strengthening the family. So is it right wing? It is also about about turning round the leaves of those languishing at the bottom of society rather than just passing by on the other side.
Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference, Cllr David Pugh, leader of the Isle of Wight Council, talked about how the policy is being applied by his local authority:
The first encounter with the family will entail the keyworker spending a good 10 hrs or so simply ‘walking in the family’s shoes’ and understanding what it is like to be that family living in those circumstances. They will accompany the family as they get the kids up in the morning and get them to school, as they claim benefits, do their shopping. Too often, the involvement of professionals is based on the assessment of other professionals, rather than really understanding how a family exists. By travelling the same path as the family we hope to get a real sense of the everyday challenges and work with the family to jointly identify a solution that is real and has a genuine chance of success.
Cllr Pugh outlined:
…a radical Conservative approach. It reverses the traditional top down approach of social services and instead puts government in the shoes of the family, to understand their issues and help them onto the right track and into employment and training. And we devolve budgets and we trust the people with personal budgets because this is how you build personal responsibility. If people remain clients of the state they will never change for good.
Turning round these families involves caring for them but also toughness. It involves intervening but with the objective that they will become independent of the state and be contributing to their communities rather than undermining them.
Labour may claim the mantle of "one nation" but they failed these families. It is the Conservatives who have the seriousness of purpose and the philosophical underpinning that offers the prospect of success.