Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
I remember about eighteen months ago, sitting in an extremely hot committee room, at the very end of Committee Corridor, on the top floor of Parliament.
It took me a long time to walk there from my office off Speakers Court – a bit like going from Land’s End to John O’Groats. But it was worth it.
This event was one of the first public meetings of the re-established Conservative Workers and Trade Union Movement (CWTU).
Despite having a modest attendance, there were trade union members present who got up and said “I am a member of x trade union and I am Conservative”. At times, it felt like the sketch from Little Britain – this time ‘the only trade union member in the Conservative Village’.
This meeting heralded the renewal of the CWTU. During the 1970s and 1980s, Conservative Trades Unionists (as it then was) had thousands of members and over a hundred branches. There were CTU officials at Central Office. Four thousand CTU activists turned up to a rally in Wembley Stadium to support Margaret Thatcher, holding banners entitled ‘Trade Unionists for a Conservative Victory’.
By the mid 1990s the CTU had collapsed, and its support inside Party HQ had ended. It was left to some stalwart Conservatives in the North of England to keep the flame of Conservative Workers alive.
I should also mention Richard Balfe, the former MEP and now peer, who as the Prime Minister’s trade union representative ensured that the workers and trades union voice was heard during the years of Conservative Opposition and then Coalition.
So, in 2015, after having previously written a paper for Demos called ‘‘Stop the trade union bashing’’ with a few fellow travellers – or comrades – we decided to resuscitate the CTWU.
Now called Tory Workers, it was established with the aim of reaching out to millions of Conservative-minded trade unionists; to campaign for workers policies within our party like the Living Wage, lower taxes for lower earners, apprenticeships and affordable housing; and to support white van men and women and blue collar workers.
Step forward Dr Spencer Pitfield, our director; Nick Denys, our polucy guru; Richard Short (a regular writer at this parish), our deputy director; and a remarkable team alongside them who have spent the past two years (with few funds and initially little support) building Tory Workers into a movement. The dedication and effort of this team has been extraordinary. They really live up to the ‘Tory Workers’ name.
Our passion is simple – to ensure that millions of working people believe that the Conservative Party is the true workers party of Great Britain and the party of the ladder of opportunity.
We campaign around five areas: a ‘Workers Charter, encompassing workers skills and jobs; workers wages; workers welfare; workers rights; and workers services – all the while trying to develop a Conservative framework and narrative around these themes.
From that small committee room in Parliament, Tory Workers now have over 1,000 members, a strong social media presence, and a well attended Spring Conference. The past two Conservative Party Conferences have seen very successful fringe meetings as well.
But what was special about Manchester was that, for the first time, numerous party activists were randomly approaching the CTU team, asking for more information and wanting to join. The best moment was when a Manchester Conference hall staff member – who had nothing to do with the Conservatives at all, but had seen our fringe event – asked for a CWTU leaflet and suggested he wanted to join.
Slowly slowly, Tory Workers is becoming a real and valued voice in our party. If you agree with the values of Tory Workers, please join at www.toryworkers.co.uk or email Dr Spencer Pitfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.