Monday, 28 January 2013

A note on 'Little Guy Conservatism'

Today, Conservative Home launched a week long series of articles on what Tim Montgomerie calls 'Little Guy Conservatism'.  This fits in with a now quite well-established debate in the Conservative Party about the need to reach out to working-class voters.   In its various guises, it has been labelled 'blue-collar conservatism', 'white van conservatism' and 'conservatism for the underdog'.  The hero of 'little guy conservatism' is, of course, the striver.

The basic idea behind Montgomerie's project is that the Tories, under Cameron, got modernisation wrong.  The Cameroons believed that voters disliked the Conservatives on social issues: immigration, crime, the environment.  The reality is, however, that the Tories failed on economic issues and public services.  Many people didn't trust the Conservatives on economic and job security; on providing good, well-funded and fair public services; and on making sure the rich paid their fair share.  In short, for the age-old political debate on how resources should be distributed, many people didn't think the Tories were on their side.

I actually agree quite strongly with Montgomerie's thesis.  The reason the Conservatives didn't win in 2015 is because people didn't trust them with their livelihoods.  There are now signs however that the top of the Tory Party are listening to these arguments.  This is evident in the decision to freeze fuel duty and the enthusiasm for increasing the tax-free personal allowance.

However, I think there are two forces working against this project; which, in the end, should make Ed Miliband sleep a little easier at night.  The first is that there are still many in the Conservatives who advocate slashing and burning public services, the welfare state, employment rights, minimum wages and so on.  This influence is also evident in the Tory high command.  Every time Cameron makes a speech, we're told about about 'The Global Race'.  This strand of thought works against the idea of blue-collar conservatives: that the Tories need to convince people their living standards and jobs are safe with them.

The second problem is how the project is framed by its key proponents.  It baffles me how Montgomerie et al can consider referring to 'little guys', 'white vans' or 'underdogs' makes them appear in-touch with the needs of ordinary, working- and middle-class voters.  It is a remarkably crude, tabloid caricature of working people, which treats them as a different species to the political class rather than the people that politicians should serve.  The problem is summed up in the image below, produced by Conservative Home, in which blue-collar conservatism is represented by dog food.  Until the brains behind this project realise that comparing your target electorate to dogs is unbelievably patronising and offensive, then I'm not sure Labour has too much to worry about.

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