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.
The train of conservatism
The train of communism is travelling up the hill. It suddenly stops, unable to move.
Lenin announces: ‘Revolutionise the Driver’.
Stalin screams: ‘Put the Driver in the gulag’.
Khrushchev argues: ‘Rehabilitate the Driver’.
Brezhnev implores: ‘Shut the train curtains’.
Gorbachev shouts: ‘The train isn’t working, the train isn’t working’.
Yeltsin replies: ‘Let’s get the vodka out’.
Putin says: ‘Poison the Driver and inform the passengers he was taking the train to Salisbury Cathedral’.
I sometimes think that, when the Corbyn/McDonnell train is journeying across our railways, the response from the Right, is as inadequate as this parody of the Soviet-Russian leaders in dealing with the failures of communism and post-communism. The newspaper headlines are a case in point: ‘The end of the world’, ‘Socialism in tooth and claw’, et al.
The problem for Conservatives is that the Corbyn description of what is going on resonates with millions of people. Failing railways. Increased homelessness on our streets. Utility companies with shoddy service and undeserved salaries for some company bosses, even with poor performance. Families struggling – despite working every day. Our infrastructure under strain and potholes across our roads. High streets closing as traditional shopping is swooped up by Amazon on the internet. Crime and anti-social behaviour on the rise.
Of course Tories can argue, that all this is the consequence of having no money left after 2010 – that the jobs miracle, tax cuts for lower earners, fuel duty freeze, the national living wage alongside, and millions of apprenticeships are an example of what a good entrepreneurial Conservative Government can do. Indeed, all this is true – and I argue these points myself.
But deep social and economic problems remain. We are stuck in the political rhetoric of the past, rather than providing a proper Tory vision for the future. It’s why even with ‘the most left wing leader in the history of mankind etc’, Corbyn’s Labour remains pretty high in the polls. They are speaking to the problems faced by many. We too often speak only for the few.
I am not urging more socialism on our country, far from it. I just want a conservatism that answers these things. As Quentin Letts (no Marxist or wet Conservative he) said in Wednesday’s Daily Mail: “After years of corporate abuses, multinationals and central bankers crying wolf, and a Whitehall and Westminster hierarchy still stubbornly opposed to the people’s will on Brexit, this Corbynist fervour may well find a trusting audience.”
I just hope that next week’s Tory Conference sets in train conservatism for the future – a vision that deals as much with social capital as economic capital, and gets to grip with the burning injustices that the Prime Minister pledged to tackle when first on the steps of Downing Street.
Tackling Burning Injustices does not mean taxing milkshakes
Speaking of social justice, was it really envisaged that, when the Prime Minister set out her passion to deal with burning injustices, she really meant that working people should be charged more for buying a milkshake at McDonalds?
A McTax on milkshakes may please the chattering classes but just hits those on lower incomes disproportionately. Downing Street has to get out of the mindset that we solve every problem with extra taxation. What about education to change behaviours, for example?
P.S. Before the “thought police” harangue me about McDonalds, yes, the restaurant has unhealthy treats, but many healthy options too, including sugar free drinks, salads and fruit!
I used to think Groundhog Day was a brilliant film of fiction until I realised, every morning when I wake up to hear the same radio tunes on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, it might be a true story after all.
Okay, I hear each day a discussion about Brexit, instead of I Got You Babe, but it is hard not to feel like the grumpy weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) when I wake up to it instead. I empathise with Phil again, when someone in the shape of the Groundhog Day insurance salesman, Ned (Stephen Tobolowski), stops me in a Commons corridor to talk about… the EU.
I so long for when Brexit Groundhog Day is all over, and we have left the EU, in a way that respects the vote for the British people to leave properly. I may not get to dance with Rita (Andie McDowell), but focusing on perhaps even bigger challenges like Social Care or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the match of the robots and its effect on jobs will have quite a soothing effect.
Having said that, the ‘Stand Up for Brexit’ campaign has been pretty impressive on social media, especially Twitter. Perhaps they should add ‘the EU’ to their hall of Brexit fame. After all, in Salzburg, did not the European Council show that they were the greatest of all advocates of #ChuckChequers? Perhaps they are secret members of the European Research Group.