James Frayne is Director of communications agency Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion. The focus of this column is Theresa May’s conservatism for “ordinary working people”.
The defining theme of this column is – as above – politics for ordinary working people. Its genesis lies in the project I researched for Policy Exchange before the 2015 election: Overlooked but Decisive: Connecting with England’s Just About Managing Classes. It recommended the Conservatives overwhelmingly prioritise policies and communications for the lower middle class – C1/C2 voters who are “just about managing”.
Lynton Crosby’s campaign for David Cameron focused on these voters – who are around half the population of the majority of England’s traditional marginal seats – but Cameron never showed interest in them. As ConservativeHome readers will know, Nick Timothy’s interest in these voters is deep and longstanding and it’s no surprise Theresa May instigated a pivot towards them.
Over the last year, I’ve set out a number of policy ideas designed to appeal to lower middle class voters – particularly their core values of “family” and “fairness”. The policies ticked one of two boxes: helping raise lower middle class living standards or appealing to their hearts. Given this election is a turnout election, which policies should feature in the manifesto to get them out on election day? Here are four thoughts – two that make their lives easier, two that appeal to their hearts.
- First, the party should cut the cost of driving. In London, it’s common to call those that drive “motorists”. Outside London, they’re known as “people” – becauseeveryone drives. Outside of mortgage payments, the cost of owning and running a car is one of families’ top expenses and reducing costs would send a message the party’s on their side. (The party should also underline its commitment not to hit those that bought diesel cars in good faith.)
- Second, the Party should ease the burden on childcare by providing tax breaks for those that need to pay a fortune now. C1 and C2 women often don’t want to work full time – and the 30 hours commitment is a poor use of money if you’re interested in helping them – but childcare costs are a massive burden for households that often rely on 2 (or one and a half) incomes at a time when they are still relatively young and poorly paid.
- Third, the Conservatives should pledge to raise defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP. Theresa May has pledged to meet the two per cent NATO target but should go further. This would have a number of benefits: (a) showing the EU – and particularly those on the Eastern borders of the EU – they need British security; (b) further underlining Theresa May’s reputation as a strong leader; and (c) drawing an obvious dividing line with a Labour leader seen as being soft on defence.
- Fourth, the Party should pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act. Many in Westminster seem almost bored with an idea the Conservatives have repeatedly flirted with. But there would be widespread enthusiasm for such a move. The public don’t oppose what they view as “real human rights” but they think human rights laws are being abused and that such laws breach values of fairness and decency. As with defence, it would take the Conservatives on to ground on which Labour could never follow. It would be a major win with ordinary voters.
Those policies that have trickled out so far – such as energy price capping and an increase in the minimum wage – will appeal to the lower middle class (and particularly the affluent working class), but they leave something of an unpleasant taste in the mouth for Conservative activists, as Paul Goodman hinted yesterday. These policies would appeal to those just about managing – and ought to appeal to the party base too.