Rebecca Coulson is a freelance classical musician and writer, and the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary candidate for the City of Durham.
It’s the heat from sandalled paths, and garden braziers at night. Tomás Luis de Victoria’s setting of the passion narrative, and Richard Lloyd’s Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? It’s iron nailed hard into spatchcocked hands.
The Holy Week transportation from Durham Cathedral nave to Golgotha’s ugly hill ever draws me closer to belief than easy Easter Day. But then we’re back to politics. Back to leaflets in doors, and ITV ringing up to pop by and film me talking about the spare room subsidy, whilst I’m out in the rain in Stockton South in my old tennis shoes. Before we leave church entirely, though, I thought I’d tell you about my friend, A.
A is a priest. And, at the moment, he’s a happy one. Not just because it’s the octave of Easter: he’d point out that we should always live in the light of the resurrection. It’s also largely thanks to George Osborne, whose budget commitment to church roofs was actually a top-up. A’s church sent an application to the fund after the chancellor’s original oblation last Advent, and much-needed repairs have just begun. It’s so good to hear a priest praise the government! The C of E is no longer the Conservative Party at prayer; bishops’ letters aside, it’s a rare sermon these days that doesn’t cite The Guardian.
This is why we should see A’s happiness as significant. It’s all very well – and, of course, hugely electorally helpful and vindicating – for business people to support Conservative economic policy. But a better gauge of how well we’re doing – in order both to predict May’s result, and to assess our longer-term progress – might come from our stereotypically less natural followers.
We all know that political tribalism still prevails within certain fields of work. Allegiances can set some groups as much – if not more – against us, as they set them in favour of our opponents. Whilst the direction of the causal arrow isn’t our biggest problem here, it might be helpful to ask whether these people’s resolution that they should dislike us – and it’s a definite should – is straightforwardly influenced by the outlook of the industries in which they work, or whether ideology remains a determinant of employment choice. Following the booms of university attendance, house ownership, foreign travel, disposable income, et al, we can’t still be talking about class divisions, can we? Isn’t that unbearably patronising?
More importantly, though, have any of the successes of the past five years begun to turn our detractors? If so, what else can we do?
Well, here’s what I’ve learnt from recent conversations with three other friends. Friends whom I like a lot, and with whom I have much in common (bar Conservative Party membership). But friends whose jobs would, to many, still imply that they hate the party I represent. Let’s call them B, C, and D.
B is primary school teacher. And he’s very traditionally Labourite – albeit in a Roy Jenkins kind of a way. When I last saw him, we had a long conversation about Michael Gove. Oh, no – you cry – one of the those! No, actually. And, really, it didn’t differ much from the conversations I’ve had with other great teachers. Standards are definitely up, they agree. And this is why my friend liked Gove so much. It’s the grammar, he told me. The grammar, the times tables, and the history. Simply, he’s impressed by the standards that the new regime proves possible. “The children in my class can now use a semi-colon; even if I can’t,” he texted me, later. B’s funny like that. But he’ll never vote for us.
C is a nurse. That’s right, a front-line NHS worker! The NHS: that gangly kitten we’ve supposedly attempted to drown. Attempted to drown, whilst increasing its funding, year on year… But it’s not for the money that C likes us. If money were the answer, our health service’s problems would’ve been solved under the profligacy of previous governments. No, what C likes is how we’ve turned towards nurses to help to deal with the choking knock-on effects of the country’s GP shortage. She likes this idea – not only because it’s working, but also because, “it’s a great opportunity for nurses to achieve exciting posts, such as nurse practitioner, in surgeries and nurse-led walk-in centres.” C is currently studying for an MSc in advanced clinical care, which, she explained, “allows you to prescribe, diagnose, and treat – all relatively new concepts for experienced nurses.” I don’t know how C will vote, but I’m hopeful.
D is an academic. A few weeks ago, he told me that he’s planning to vote Conservative, but that admitting this to his colleagues would be like saying he’s voting for Mussolini. Living in a university city, this doesn’t surprise me: socialism is the default collegiate setting. “So many academics seem to enjoy their juvenile class war position,” he said. “It’s depressing to find this among people who are supposed to be thinkers.” And he pointed out the particular irony of this, when Labour’s current approach to higher education funding is so cynically opportunistic. But D isn’t voting Conservative simply to foil Labour: “I think the current system in HE is working quite well. At the moment, no-one has to pay anything up front, and there are many bursaries – especially at the top universities – to help poorer students. The government has not been very good at explaining the system to the public, but there has been a genuine attempt to do the best for the universities.”
And D’s final words tie my three friends’ insights together. They value our policies not because we’ve pandered to them, but because they recognise that we’re trying – and managing – to do the right thing, in immensely difficult circumstances. The policies they like represent a measured, positive, practical response, rather than the superficial let-downs of unnecessary ideological change, manipulative words, and blood-orange Monopoly notes.
In our globalised world of endless choice and information, it makes more sense to vote on your personal view of parties’ actions than to go along with expectations of how you should. Or how your parents and neighbours always have. That our policies are changing people’s views is excellent news. No doubt my teacher friend would like this as an example of us “showing” rather than “saying”. But it’s not expediency. The aim of these policies isn’t to make people support us – that’s an (happy) effect, not a cause. Rather, our best solutions are good, right, and fair; people appreciate what we’re doing (and, sometimes – therefore – us) for these very reasons.
Michael Gove isn’t just a grammar hero: he’s someone who chose to tell the truth and improve things, rather than courting popularity. And so is David Cameron. By holding together a splintery coalition – to the extent that we’ve beaten down the recession – he’s shown indispensable strength, and proven that we’re a party that puts the country first. That this might, electorally, prove more appealing than obeying exhausted tribal norms is no mere coincidence. Not only have we managed to put the country back on track, we’ve managed to do it in a sensible, attractively Conservative way.