Rebecca Coulson is a freelance classical musician and writer, and the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the City of Durham.
I’m not related to Andy Coulson. And I am a nice person. Unsurprisingly perhaps, these are the words I’ve found myself repeating since my selection on Saturday as the Conservative Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the City of Durham. But it’s needing the second statement that I find more telling.
I’m a Conservative because I’m a nice person – not in spite of it. But Michael Portillo got it spot on when, in the run up to the 2010 election, he commented that whilst Conservatives think that Labour voters are misguided, Labour voters think that Conservatives are evil. It’s about time we took the mantle of niceness – the deceit of well-meant portmanteau terms like ‘social justice’ – away from the centre left. If there is still such a thing in the UK.
I’m a Conservative because I’m a libertarian. I believe in a limited state and limited taxation, yet that we all, in a Contractarian sense, give away small amounts of liberty in order to gain security (defence, healthcare, education) from the state in which we live.
But there are easier, more practical ways for me to defend my allegiance. Not least that the Conservative long-term economic plan is working: we have more jobs, better interest rates, better schools, and a smaller deficit. And for anyone who won’t buy the ideology, the need for us to continue on this route to economic solvency is potent.
But there’s also the practicality of helping others to help themselves -the old ‘give a man a fish’ argument. And this for me is where the real niceness comes in. I believe in informing people, in helping them to make their own decisions, and take responsibility for themselves, rather than making them endemically dependent on state support. And that we should fight against the culture of blame that we all feed upon.
It’s not fair, or by any means nice, to pay people off, and allow them to settle for a borrowed life, with almost enough money, and no certain future. Work doesn’t just pay. It offers self-worth, purpose, and a place in society. And this is what Conservatism is bringing: support to small businesses, the most competitive corporate tax regime in Europe, 1.6 million new apprenticeships – rather than the invention of public sector jobs. This to me is niceness – and more.
Of course, anti-Conservative vitriol is heightened up here in County Durham, where the spectre of the late Baroness Thatcher wanders the streets of ex-mining villages. But, and this is political kamikaze, I don’t think it’s right for a North-East school leaver to blame their joblessness on a dead 1980s Prime Minister. Regardless of the fact that it’s highly revisionist – Wilson shut down four times as many pits as Thatcher here; we were geographically fortunate to have so many mining jobs for such a long time; and the coal industry has been increasingly reliant on state subsidy since WW2 – it goes against the heart of my Conservatism: personal responsibility.
I expect hate mail for the previous paragraph – if not burnt effigies – but I really don’t mind. I’d rather say it anyway, and hope it resonates somewhere. I’m very aware of my good fortune in having had an excellent (state school, if I really have to enter that debate) education in Durham, and then at Cambridge, and I think this demands a proper use. But I also think that the environment in which you grow up is just as important as the formal education you receive. A family with a work ethic – a family in which it’s cool to be academic and try hard at school – is invaluable.
My dad, the philosopher EJ Lowe who died earlier this year, doesn’t just inspire me through the writings he left, and his formative advice – not least in conversation about our shared libertarianism. His brilliant, yet often disputed, metaphysical arguments epitomise how to stick to what you believe will help others, in the face of their incredulity. And, because of him, I think that anything can be achieved in time, if it’s right.
Even, dare I say it, a Conservative seat in the City of Durham.