10 November 2012

Tories need to win over 'urban middle' to win majority.

A lot of noise has been generated by Tory pressure groups skirting around to find the new voters needed to win the next general election.

A lot of these groups have coalesced around, indeed grasped the notion of 'blue collar' Toryism to appeal to the skilled working classes that supposedly propelled Margaret Thatcher to power in the 80s.

In fact Tories already do extremely well amongst this group, indeed they have a lead over Labour amongst C2 voters, thanks largely it must be said to the pro-Tory, Mail, Sun, Times, Star, Express, Standard & Argus papers etc. pumping out daily anti-left propaganda and a 2 party voting system that leaves people with limited choice.

Only the 'rural rich' provide more staunch support for the Tories. But one group that used to be part of their core vote is being ignored - the urban middle class. These are wealthy voters, homeowners in expensive properties maybe numbering 2 million people.

There are centres of towns and cities especially in the south where house prices are 300 or 400,000 on average that are returning Labour, Lib Dem, even Green councillors & MPs. These were the voters that won seats in big urban areas for the Tories in the 1950s, including Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle & Scotland.

If the Tories were serious about being a one nation party, winning over these voters could bring a Blair size landslide. Although they are smaller in number than other groups they are politically very active & bring influence which attracts other voters.

It would not be easy to win over the urban middle. They make up a core part of the majority of voters that say 'never vote Tory' especially the generation that grew up under Thatcher. Cameron's hug a hoodie huskie period was a half hearted attempt to win over this group but Tories ultimately think winning these voters involves too much effort in terms of policies.

The environmentalism & liberal attitude to criminal justice has been dropped & only the u-turn on homophobia remains. Nowhere near enough. The Tories need to learn that demonising minorities only wins votes in the short term & causes longer term damage to your electoral chances, as the US republicans are finding out.

Tories need to return to the common sense that it is not big government that is the problem but bad government. Big government can not only be good but essential. The Olympics security debacle & bankrupt banks shows that the private sector can fall flat on its face & only government is big enough to pick up the pieces & save the day. Another example is the housing crisis, the private sector cannot fix this & big government provides the infrastructure, framework, R&D & services that allow the private sector to develop and thrive.

The urban middle are socially liberal, rely more on public transport than cars and are obsessed more with quality of life than making a quick buck. Tories can win votes by improving public transport and the urban environment. Enabling more people to live in pleasant urban centres protects green belt. Building rail lines & cycle paths instead of roads saves the rural environment while boosting productivity. Being nice to the most vulnerable costs little in the long run.

All of this is going to be hard for right wing Tories to swallow. But to win big as Labour did means you have to try to attract EVERY voter with a convincing narrative.

There is a convincing Tory narrative that is inclusive but it means truly accepting a more equal society rather than just paying it lip service. For example, removing child benefit from the middle class and dismantling universal benefits in general is a bad Tory policy. Tories  should be arguing that the wealthy deserve universal benefits more than anyone because their taxes have paid for them.

Means testing is not only a waste of taxpayers money on administration. It is a disincentive to save, it hits the 'strivers', those who take responsibility. Neither does it hurt the 'skivers' who by definition are great at working the system. It only hurts those who genuinely need it with added red tape & those who pay for it by excluding them from it.

Another example is land value tax. The Tories dismiss even to consider it and side instead with the crony capitalists making money doing nothing by sitting on land when those who are productive 'risk takers' pay the taxes that build the infrastructure that increases land prices in the first place.

There are plenty on the right (& left) who want both land taxes & a basic citizens income - a living income for all. Tories can make a powerful argument that the state should do less decision taking but still be big government in terms of providing individuals with enough to live on in cash that they can spend how they choose themselves.

Whether productive or not, all citizens need a decent standard of living in a society as wealthy as ours. It is costly, counter productive & economically inefficient to try & use welfare and the criminal justice system to punish the poor.

Tories should embrace those who make the rational decision that low wages are not enough to get up in the morning. Scroungers are only being good Tories in the sense of looking after themselves & their families. While getting a poorly paid job still involves the removal of benefits, it is rational to avoid work when the financial incentive is so weak. Paying everyone the dole un-means tested & regardless of circumstance is the obvious Tory solution to this problem.

Tories can be the freedom of choice party, freeing people from pollution and form filling and enabling everyone to make individual decisions with taxpayers money. Our divisive 2 party voting system has left the Tories ignorant of their potential natural middle class support in urban centres. Only by challenging current core beliefs in the party can the Tories build the coalition to truly find a Conservative party that governs for the benefit of all. It is possible. Perhaps then they could even win the vote of someone like me. There are plenty of us looking for a home and only resting our pencils on the Labour, Lib Dem or Green box for fear of the worst Tory excesses and currently Cameron is proving us right.

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