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.
Time to get out that ladder of opportunity, once again
Yes, it is true, I am obsessed but, to be fair to ConservativeHome readers, I haven’t gone on about this for quite a while now. I can’t help myself – especially after reading Iain Dale’s recent ConservativeHome column. In his wisdom, he said it was time to get rid of the Conservative symbol – the tree (or, “the broccoli”, as I prefer to call it).
As patient readers will know, I have been an advocate for the ladder of opportunity for over a decade. I feel a bit like the crazy person on the top of a double-decker bus with a long beard shouting at the passengers. But, our symbol is quite simply rubbish. It may be a tree or a vegetable of some kind, but the squiggle and trunk is hard to see or understand and represents what exactly?
What better time could there be, following our astonishing election victory, to finally replace the logo with a ladder, representing timeless Conservative values of aspiration?
This would be all the more effective given that most of the Labour party are making the mistake of blaming their significant election defeat solely on Brexit. Of course, the EU played a major role, but Corbyn and his party were seen as the enemies of aspiration and opportunity – against anyone who wanted to do well in life, for themselves and their families.
The ladder would represent our values. It would have to have hands around the ladder, showing that the Government is there to help people climb up and be there for those who might fall.
If our esteemed editor would allow, perhaps ConservativeHome could commission a competition allowing readers to design our new ladder logo….?
But it can’t just be about a ladder… we need some more ‘Why’.
A ladder is not enough, however. At the end of the day, logos are just that – logos; unless they are surrounded by a powerful narrative. When Tony Blair introduced Labour’s red rose, it was accompanied by a powerful story about New Labour (how long ago that now seems).
The constant problem with modern Conservatism and Government is that we regularly announce all these wonderful initiatives – monies to be spent on this scheme, monies to be spent on that programme. Our manifesto had some superb policies like 20,000 more police, 50,000 extra nurses, 40 new hospitals, grand infrastructure projects, tax cuts for the lower paid and much more besides.
Yet what was really missing was the why. Why are we doing all these things? Or in other words, how does it represent Conservatism? What are the timeless Tory values behind them?
We, Conservatives, rarely explain the why, only the what we are doing. It is no wonder that the public are often, at best, confused as to what Conservatism means and, at worst, succumb to the Labour narrative that we are there just to help our wealthier friends.
With the very sad death of Sir Roger Scruton, our party has lost its philosopher king. Not only is a new king needed, it is time to work out our modern Conservative values and link them to our policies in a way that the public can understand. There should not be an announcement without it being specifically linked to our Conservative values. The why must be essential to everything we do.
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Let’s not be fixated on the whereabouts of CCHQ buildings
I have enjoyed the articles from ConservativeHome writers, making their bid to have CCHQ in their particular town or city. Without a doubt, it would be lovely for it to shift to my own constituency and hometown of Harlow. After all, we are the original home of ‘white-van Conservatism’.
But in truth, I think the arguments in favour of moving the building makes a fundamental mistake. First, at a time when technology means people can work anywhere, whether it be a McDonald’s or at home, how on earth will moving a hundred people or so to a new area make a difference to winning an election – apart from generating some good local newspaper headlines for a few days?
Second, what would really assist marginal seats in the North and elsewhere is not getting a new large office and transferring hundreds of people at great cost, but spending money instead to ensure that each seat has one or two dedicated quality, decently-paid, campaign managers whose tasks are clear: to build up their local associations, to win local elections, and ensure the re-election of Conservative MPs.
Moreover, why not have campaign managers in areas which we don’t win? From Cambridge to Enfield to Halifax to St Helens to perform the same role – transforming the local Conservative party and above all, doing everything possible to get some councillors elected. There are still too many areas of the country where there is little or no Conservative representation, at all.
I think this would be a much better use of our members and donors funds.
Back to Education
I was honoured to be re-elected, this week, as Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee – this time, unopposed. Being a Committee Chair is an extraordinary job. Committees have a chance to be a powerhouse of ideas, influence policy and scrutinise the Executive and the dreaded and humongous quangos.
I hope that our Committee will focus on skills, social justice, standards and support for the profession. All four are important rungs for pupils, apprentices and students, to climb up the… education ladder of opportunity.