14 May 2015

What Is A Tory?

Like the Guardian's Suzanne Moore, my parents were "working class Tories". Not lifelong Tories, like her parents, but intermittant Tories. I particularly remember they voted Thatcher in 1979 (and later regretted it).

They voted for pretty much every party available from there on in.

Liberal/SDP throughout the 80s, Blair in the 90s, BNP, even Green, then finally UKIP.

This seems completely baffling and irrational from the point of view of a political anorak like myself. As Suzanne Moore says, it is easy to sneer.

Are all Tories politically uninformed and/or selfish? I have many friends from my schooldays who are Tories, my eldest brother's family are Tories and some of them are the nicest people you could meet in terms of helping family, friends etc.

But their political views seem vicious to me. A real disdain for the poor. An "I'm alright attitude". An incomprehension of what happens to them if THEY fall on really hard times. If their health or wealth fail them.

They see the attack on the welfare state as a good thing - reducing the amount THEY have to pay for "others" who are "just lazy". 

They do not recognise welfare as a useful insurance for THEM. And increasingly, as means testing takes over, they are right.

Save a few quid, get your earnings above the bare minimum and the welfare you pay for is taken away.

No one is making the argument that middle to high earners deserve welfare too. Yet we should be making that argument. Not surprisingly, when it is taken away from them, they do not want to pay for it anymore or vote for it. As Bevan said "welfare for the poor only, is poor welfare".

Welfare as a concept is about insurance. Social insurance or as it was known until the 1980s, social security. In other European countries it is known as "solidarity" with "solidarity taxes" to pay for it. A nice concept that the Labour party would do well to take up.

The Labour party were at their best when creating and defending universal welfare. Council houses were built for all, with many middle class housed in them after the war. The NHS of course is universal. A concept the Tories are trying everything they can to undermine. The best benefits are universal too - the state pension, free bus passes, child benefit, maternity/paternity leave etc.

And social security used to be generous. It puts a floor under wages. Low paying employers have to compete. If benefit levels are decent, they have to pay decent wages to all.

Affordability doesn't come into it. It doesn't apply to welfare, because welfare is just a redistribution of money. The money is there, you jyst have to move it from rich to poor. This is about a functioning society. This is not about creating wealth to pay for services. This is about reducing wealth at the top end to fund everyone else.

Does this affect productivity? Does this affect the desire to work? Aren't there too few rich to tax? Won't they just move abroad?

These are the scare stories and largely that is exactly what they are. They are not based on fact. The wealthy do have the money, they do not move abroad and productivity is not affected. We know this, because in more equal countries we can observe it.

Tory voters see public services as largely superfluous to their needs. And apart from a few council services, the police and the NHS, they are unconcerned about cutbacks. They see the NHS as still fine and free to use at point of use and do not realise the extent it is under threat.

Of course some Tories are  undoubtedly selfish or ignorant of the issues. And so are some Labour voters, or voters of any other party for that matter. It's a question of degree. But even if Tories were all being selfish. How does that help those of us on the left?

Are they turkeys voting for christmas? A lot of us on the left are convinced of this. We get accused of arrogance for espousing this view. But undoubtedly a lot of us who believe this ARE more politically informed than our Tory voting peers.

Who reads manifestos? I live and breathe politics. I know more policy proposals off the top of my head than anyone I know. But I still only know a fraction of each manifesto.

For at least the last 40 years of my parent's life, they never saw their vote affect the result anyway. They lived in a safe seat. That is probably the bigger issue than political education.

My dad finished up as a UKIP voter, even enthusiastically displaying their poster in his window.

His political journey seems typical of an average surburban voter.

The Tories don't dominate the suburbs, but they do win more votes there than Labour.

This is the key. How do Labour win back the suburbs? Or even, how do we persuade the suburbs that the Tories really aren't your friends. If there is an economic crash by 2020, Labour might not have to. The economy is the Tories ace card. If their credibility goes on that, like after 1992, they will haemorrhage votes.

But Labour now have other Tories to fight - UKIP. UKIP are basically Tories without the damaged brand name. Until voters see UKIP in power, they cannot judge them.

Labour actually did quite well in big town and city centres. But they did terribly elsewhere.

From my point of view, I am beginning to not care who Labour choose for their leader, or what direction they take. If Labour win on a right wing platform or lose again on a platform pretending to the left (but manifestly refusing to defend universal benefits), then there is little point to their existence.

The bigger question is where their voters go. If UKIP continue to build up support from those who economically are on the left. Then we are in real trouble.

I look for a renaissance on the left. And hope that things don't have to get too much worse before there is a reaction. But lets hope we don't leave it too late. The USA shows, once universal welfare is gone (whether healthcare or social) it is near impossible to get back.

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