Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.
Our party’s success in the past has been aided by its ability to reach out to working people across Britain. Many still speak of Margaret Thatcher as a leader who could tap into their aspirations and help them to achieve their dreams.
In recent years, some of our political opponents have come to assume that less-wealthy communities are theirs and theirs alone. They think that only the Left understands their problems.
The Left acts as though all working class people should be lumped together in one demographic. We see them as individuals from a range of backgrounds, who may just want some help or advice to achieve their dreams. But what can we do at the local level to show them that the Conservative Party is championing them and their communities?
We cannot keep our Party away from the communities that they serve. At the grassroots level our party should become a key hub, leading by example.
When the Left talks about poverty it thinks about a trickle-down state-funded solution. It assumes that chucking more taxpayers’ money at a problem will solve everything. But go to places where this supposedly has that trickle-down effect and you will see deprivation.
On the Right, we are as bad. We talk about rolling back the state and assume that civil society organisations and local community organisations will simply fill the gap. But we forget that many individuals are not the “rational economic agents” we read about in economics text books. In the real world, they need help.
In London there are thousands of community projects. I do what I can to get the ones I meet publicity, or put them in touch with funders, or find them space to incubate their projects. For example Regenerate, a charity in the middle of the Roehampton Estate in South London, set up the social enterprise The Feel Good Bakery to redirect the entrepreneurial skills of former gang members who used to deal drugs into selling sandwiches. As the T shirt says: “From dope dealer to hope dealer”.
Jayne Laville runs a Jobs Club that has found more jobs for the people who rely on her, than the local job centre. Jane Gould started Clean Sheet to help those with criminal convictions exit the downward spiral of offending, prison, release, re-offending – and enter the world of work, by encouraging businesses to take on reformed former offenders. Crowdpatch, which was the brainchild of Simon Krystman who built a platform to help local organisations and community champions raise funds for their projects by crowdfunding on the website completely for free.
We Conservatives – through our local branches and associations – have a major role to play in helping community groups and charities. We often have spare office space that they can use, or businesses and donors that we could introduce them to.
We do not need to play the game of the Left: bribing communities with taxpayers’ money to vote for them and more funds. We can offer something better. Rather than throwing money at communities, we can get our hands dirty and get stuck in to solving the issues. Worried about newly arrived migrants not speaking English? Why can’t the local Conservative Association open its doors and run free English classes? Youths hanging around on streets? Let’s start a youth club. Or even better, an inter-generational project bringing older or isolated people together with younger people who may need a mentor in their life.
Does the local job centre seem more interested in box-ticking than finding local people jobs? Host a jobs club.
Are there local people who would like to learn basic IT skills? How about local Conservatives running computing classes?
There’s a wider point here. Why would people want to become members of their local Conservative Party? At the moment, our grassroots organisation needs an injection of life. Placing it at the heart of local communities as a local force for good would surely attract people to Conservative activism in the future. When we say we believe in helping people overcome barriers to help themselves, let’s act and demonstrate that we mean it. That way we roll back the state, roll forward society and place Conservatism truly at the heart of our local communities.