Today’s papers are full of snippets about what newly-elected Conservative MPs from the former Red Wall seats are thinking and saying about the coming lockdown – and how they will vote on Wednesday.
It’s one more sign of the grip that the “C2s”, “strivers”, “battlers”, “little guys” (and girls) “the just about managing” and “the north and midlands” currently have on the country’s political imagination.
These categories, real and imagined, aren’t necessarily the same, but they do paint a rough picture of the provincial voters of England and Wales who gifted Boris Johnson his 80-seat majority last year.
We’re no strangers to taking an interest in them ourselves on ConservativeHome. They are the focus of James Frayne’s fortnightly Far From Notting Hill column on this site.
As long ago as 2015, we were calling for a “conservatism for Bolton West”, named after the most marginal English seat on David Cameron’s target list: Bolton West.
But there is another group of voters who have long been of special interest to this site – all the way back to 2005, when Tim Montgomerie first launched it.
They are the group immediately below the “just about managing” on most measures of incomes and outcomes – “the vulnerable”: a mass of people that Iain Duncan Smith first took a special interest in when Tory leader.
Last week, Philippa Stroud, his Special Adviser when he was Work and Pensions Secretary, wrote on this site about one of the key trade-offs in public policy – now, during Covid-19; and previously.
She said that the Government can either “focus on those who are moving in and out of poverty and close to the labour market (the top seven million)”…
“…Or else focus energy and resources on those in deep poverty – those who are 50 per cent below the poverty line (the bottom 4.5 million)”.
It can be argued that government doesn’t have to choose between helping both near at the bottom of Robert Halfon’s famous ladder and those on the lower rungs, which is true enough.
Furthermore, the “just about managing” have an interest in helping those who aren’t managing at all – both as fellow citizens and, more particularly, because they pay taxes to support those those who struggle with “five giants”.
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), adapting that famous phrase from Beveridge for the modern age, identifies these as: family breakdown, worklessness, serious personal debt, addiction and educational underachievement.
Nonetheless, Stroud is right: when it comes to policy on spending, tax, regulation and much else, including the use of its bully pulpit, to govern is to choose.
So it is that on ConservativeHome this week, we’re very pleased to be hosting the CSJ, which Duncan Smith founded, in a series on Covid-19 and the deep poor – to pick up Stroud’s phrase.
Andy Cook opens it today with an article urging that Universal Credit, which is coped well during this crisis, be supplemented by Universal Support – personal help suited to each person looking for and seeking to keep work.
He’s the CSJ’s Chief Executive Officer, and other pieces from the CSJ will follow on educational underachievement, mental health, homelessness, serious personal debt and domestic abuse.
That’s six giants in all, not five, but we believe that this exercise is well worth it, and were delighted to have Duncan Smith writing on the site himself yesterday to introduce the series.
He wants a Social Justice Cabinet Committee – and has a plan to bring closure to the free schools meals row, which hasn’t gone away and will be back soon.
We look forward to the rest of series and to responses from our readers, MPs, Ministers and others – as the shutdown prepares to bite.