Britain needs a new party to stand up for the interests of working people. In 1900, the Labour party was created to ensure a fair deal for workers. But modern Labour has moved away from workers with their credo of high benefits and high taxation. Who can step in and fill the gap?
Who is ready to stand up and say to working people on average earnings of £27,000, that the £1,200 a year you pay every year out of your taxes to pay the wages of benefit claimants (not even including the state pension) is high enough and should be reduced?
Who is really going to speak up for those families across Britain where one partner goes out to work at 6am in the morning in their vans, and comes back home at 7pm, when their other partner or spouse goes out to work at night? The kind of families that rarely have a holiday, struggle to keep their heads above water, but have a work ethic that is second to none.
Not the Liberal Democrats, who represent the chattering classes with their pro EU, pro green taxes agenda. Nor UKIP, who are angry that Britain has moved on from the 1950s without their permission, and seem to think that bashing immigrants, or getting British Muslims to sign a special code of conduct (as proposed by a UKIP MEP), will get working people on side.
Might it be the Conservatives, the party of Disraeli, who made it the party’s mission to ‘elevate the condition of working people’? Or of Thatcher, who introduced ‘right to buy’? Let’s replace the party tree emblem with a symbol of a ladder, representing the foundation of Conservative values
Possibly, but years of neglect have meant that Conservatives have been decimated in Scotland and weakened in the north of England. And for all sorts of historical and political reasons, many millions of ethnic minority voters are still suspicious of the party.
Can Conservatives reclaim the mantle as the party for hard-working people?
So far Conservatives have cut taxes for 20 million lower earners, created 1.6 million jobs and 1.5 million apprenticeships, capped benefits, and frozen fuel duty.
But, to win back support, radical change is needed in the very nature of the Conservative party. Let’s stop bashing trade unions and make clearer the distinction between militant leaders and hard-working members. Let’s offer Conservative-minded trade unionists free membership of the party.
Let’s value public sector workers: nurses, doctors, police and teachers, millions of whom put service above self. Let’s support working people by strengthening the minimum wage and fighting for a living wage – achieved through further tax cuts for lower earners.
Let’s also transform the Conservative party, so that never again will it be allowed to be called the party for the rich. First, rename it the Workers’ Party, the party that speaks for the aspiration of hard-working people, and has the policies that count to help them.
Second, replace the party tree emblem with a symbol of a ladder – representing the moral mission that has always provided the foundation of Conservative values.
Third, let’s give working people a real reason to join the new Conservative Workers’ party: with a £1 fee only for joining, a real Workers’ party could be more of a trade union than a political party. Not a trade union of the truculent variety, but one that offers real services to its members. So a discount fuel card offering cheaper petrol, and other retail offerings that help with the cost of living. Instead of asking members for money, the new Workers’ party would be offering services to members.
None of this is rocket science. But there is a huge opportunity here. Back the workers, forgotten by Labour, and the Conservatives might even be back in power – and this time with a good majority.
Rob Halfon is Conservative MP for Harlow. This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of the Fabian Review.