Friday, January 18, 2013
It is the 'aspirers’ who deliver Tory majorities – so the British PM must put himself on their side
For anyone who doubts that David Cameron is determined to govern alone after the next general election, let me recount a tantalising conversation we had in the early days of his premiership. In it, Cameron observed ruefully that perhaps only two Conservative prime ministers had governed without Liberal support of one kind or another: Margaret Thatcher and Benjamin Disraeli. The point is arguable – Stanley Baldwin, for example, won a huge majority in 1924, by which time Liberal Unionism had been completely assimilated – but the observation is telling. These conservative giants were multi-election-winning prime ministers running “pure” Tory governments, and no one should doubt that Cameron is determined to follow in their footsteps.
Thatcher and Disraeli, though wildly different in many ways (she rather austere and a scientist, he exotic and literary) had significant political similarities. Both were outsiders who first challenged and then began to represent the Establishment. Their most successful periods came when they were making the transition from radical to conservative, during which time they embodied that quintessential British conservatism which believes sustained social progress can only be built on the bedrock of tradition.
Their political strategies were based around policies that allowed the disfranchised to fulfil their aspirations, to move up in the world and pursue their ambitions. This is the true essence of British social mobility: encouraging and rewarding people who try to better themselves.
Disraeli offered these aspiring classes political liberty: the chance to vote, to take part. Cynicism undoubtedly played a role in his passing the 1867 Reform Act, and he was rewarded with defeat by Gladstone in 1868, but doubling the electorate set the tone for victory in 1874. It broke down the barrier between the fast-emerging middle classes and the traditional party of the landed gentry, marking the start of the era of Conservative political dominance.
A century later Thatcher offered economic liberty, the chance to “get on” – to use a favourite phrase of my father’s, an Irish immigrant, ex-socialist and true Thatcherite – for people born with energy but no resources, ambition without wealth. That is what the right-to-buy, curbs on union power and cutting income tax signified.
Both strategies involved taking on the unchecked power of those in authority, even in their own party. In Disraeli’s case this was the landowners, initially through the abandonment of protectionism and then through the expanded suffrage. For Thatcher it was just as important to break through the pessimistic corporatism of the Tory “Wets” as it was to loosen the grip of militant unionism.
Winning the next election starts with identifying who today’s aspirers are. For Thatcher it was Essex Man, for Disraeli the property-owning urban householders. The people who will decide the next general election live in the classic British housing estate, something between the suburbs and the council blocks. As political attitudes polarise around Britain’s geography, they are increasingly situated in the Midlands, the North and the great cities.
Often with younger families, these voters “work hard and do the right thing” but sometimes wonder why they bother. Living in cramped homes, they just about make the family budget go round. They are surprisingly socially liberal, or at least tolerant, but concerned about the security of the institutions they rely on, such as their local communities and good public services. They are ambitious to work, earn and get promoted, yet always dogged by the fear of losing their job. These are the modern version of the people who delivered Disraeli and Thatcher their majorities.
Electoral victory depends on the aspirers believing that the Conservative Party is on their side. When I was director of the Conservative Research Department before the last election, we would get regular updates on focus-group research. The most illuminating were the picture boards that participants were asked to choose: if we were doing well, the young family, struggling under the weight of responsibility but with great ambitions for their children, was selected. It meant we were on their side. But if we were doing badly, the dreaded posh family in front of a mansion would come up – Conservatives were only on the side of rich people. Those two images tell you almost everything you need to know about the history of the Conservative Party’s electoral performance.
Today’s aspirers support Conservative policies on welfare, crime and immigration and are pleased we have dropped some of our more retrograde attitudes, but they are crying out for a policy platform that will help them realise their hopes as well. Our target voters are concerned about whose interests we will govern in, but unconvinced that Labour has learnt its lessons. We need to give them positive reasons to vote Conservative. So here are three proposals that would allow the aspirers to enjoy a standard of living comparable to people who are no more virtuous than them, but who happen to be better off.
Calling for more house-building is rarely popular with Conservatives, but Britain’s restrictive planning system has led to a disastrous shortage of family homes, with aspiring voters the hardest hit. A big bang approach is needed, with councils being obliged to set aside land to accommodate 3 per cent annual housing growth, homeowners allowed to add a storey without planning permission, and – most radically – allowing anyone who doesn’t own a property to buy a piece of the 50 per cent of Britain’s land that is unprotected, and build their own home on it.
My second proposal would give families more flexibility over the family budget. It involves taking the £4 billion annual budget that supports child care for the under-fives and wrapping it up into a one-off cash payment of at least £4,000 for every child, with the authorities able to take control of this money if a family is too dysfunctional to use it properly. These funds are currently spent on the state’s priorities, not parents’, and this policy would give aspiring parents much greater control over how they care for their children.
Finally, we need to think imaginatively about helping people get a job. Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare-to-work reforms are working, with private-sector employment rising and unemployment falling even during tough times, but long-term unemployment remains a concern. The purpose of any Conservative government should be to ensure that people get a fair opportunity when they do the right thing, so the next Tory manifesto should promise anyone who has been unemployed for two years or longer, around 400,000 people, a subsidised private-sector job for six months. Refusing a job, or refusing to work properly, would bring a loss of unemployment benefits. Politically, it would show that the Conservatives would always help anyone who wants to work but who, through no fault of their own, is struggling to do so. Nothing would send a clearer and more positive signal about whose side we’re on.
Disraeli and Thatcher demonstrated that the best way to overcome people’s suspicions of Tory motives is to have a policy platform that allows ambitious people to challenge the established order. In his 2012 party conference speech, David Cameron recognised that a future majority depends on showing the aspirers that the Conservative Party is determined to spread privilege, not simply defend it. That means creating a ladder for people to climb, and, if necessary, forcing it back into place against those who would prefer to pull it up.
'Thank you Jesus!': Exultant cry of BA check-in clerk who finally wins her court battle over right to wear a cross
British Airways check-in clerk Nadia Eweida triumphed over the airline yesterday after a six-year battle to wear her cross at work.
Her right to profess her religious belief should have trumped the airline’s powers to mould its image by imposing petty uniform rules on its staff, European judges declared.
A ‘jubilant’ Miss Eweida, who had lost at a string of hearings in Britain, said her first reaction to the ruling had been to say: ‘Thank you, Jesus.’
But her victory came as three other Christians lost claims at the European Court of Human Rights. Nurse Shirley Chaplin, who wanted to wear a cross with her uniform, was told that her bosses were right to remove her from the wards because of the importance of health and safety for NHS patients.
And two Christians who were sacked in gay rights disputes were both properly dismissed, the Strasbourg court ruled.
Lillian Ladele, a registrar with Islington council, had declined to conduct civil partnership ceremonies. Gary McFarlane, a Relate counsellor, had been reluctant to give sex advice to gay couples.
The judgment in Miss Eweida’s case is likely to open the way for Christians to declare their faith by wearing or displaying the cross at work, unless their employer can show a good reason why they should not.
But the Government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission said employers would be confused.
It called for new laws from Westminster on the rights of religious believers to demonstrate and practise their beliefs in public.
Miss Eweida, 61, had been told by British Airways that she must remove the cross she wore with her uniform, even though the airline was happy for Sikh men to wear turbans and bracelets and for Muslim women to wear headscarves.
After her victory she said: ‘I’m overwhelmed, but jubilant. When I heard the result I literally jumped up and down for joy and said “thank you, Jesus”.
The Daily Mail revealed in 2006 that Nadia Eweida had been suspended for wearing a cross
The Egyptian-born Coptic Christian was sent home without pay in September 2006. Her suspension provoked a public outcry after it was reported by the Daily Mail.
The airline allowed her back to work in February 2007 under new rules allowing the cross and the Star of David to be displayed with uniforms.
However a series of British tribunals and the Court of Appeal said the airline had been right and she had been wrong.
Yesterday the Strasbourg judges said that while BA had a right to protect its corporate image, ‘Miss Eweida’s cross was discreet and cannot have detracted from her professional appearance’.
Government lawyers opposed her claim and the three others in Strasbourg. British officials said the Government is bound to uphold the decisions of the British courts.
However yesterday David Cameron tweeted that he was ‘delighted that the principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld – people shouldn’t suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs’.
Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu welcomed the ruling. ‘Christians and those of other faiths should be free to wear the symbols of their own religion without discrimination,’ he said.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who has backed the right of Christians to declare their faith, said of Miss Eweida’s victory: ‘I’m delighted that the principle of it has been upheld by the European Court.
‘The Prime Minister has said we would change the law if it wasn’t. Our lawyers are still looking through the judgement but their view is it is not going to be necessary to have to change the law.’
The judges added: ‘There was no evidence that the wearing of other, previously authorised, items of religious clothing, such as turbans and hijabs, by other employees, had any negative impact on British Airways’ brand or image.
Moreover, the fact that the company was able to amend the uniform code to allow for the visible wearing of religious symbolic jewellery demonstrates that the earlier prohibition was not of crucial importance.’
Serial criminals who avoid jail outnumber the British prison population: 90,000 with ten or more convictions escape with slap on wrist
More than 90,000 burglars, muggers and other serious criminals with ten or more convictions escaped with a slap on the wrist when they committed another offence last year.
Incredibly, the number of serial law-breakers who avoided a jail sentence in this way is greater than the 83,000 inmates currently behind bars.
The hardened criminals instead received fines, community service or a fully suspended sentence for crimes such as violence against the person, theft and sexual offences.
The analysis was produced by the newly-established Centre for Crime Prevention.
The report, produced using the Government’s own figures, shows that, in 2011/12, 140,168 people who were punished for a serious new offence already had ten or more convictions.
Yet, only 49,136 of them were sentenced to immediate custody. Despite their appalling criminal records, the remaining 91,032, almost two-thirds of the total, were given yet another chance by the police or the courts.
The beneficiaries included almost 15,000 offenders given a conditional discharge, nearly 22,000 let-off with a fine and 7,243 cautions or final warnings.
And some 68,000 of the 108,000 criminals with 15 or more offences were given a non-custodial punishment.
Mr Cuthbertson said that since the financial crisis began – leaving ministers short of funds to build new prison places – the courts have failed to lock up an increasing number of serious, repeat offenders.
In 2006/07, the number of serious offenders who avoided prison despite more than ten previous convictions or cautions was only 71,301 – which means it has rocketed by a quarter in five years.
The figures reflect the lurch towards ‘soft justice’ in the later years of the Labour government. This continued under Kenneth Clarke after the Coalition came to power. He made it clear that – in order to save money – he wanted the courts to send fewer convicts to jail.
But his replacement Chris Grayling has taken a tougher line since taking over at the Ministry of Justice in September, and immediately declared that ‘prison works’.
Last week, Mr Grayling announced the closure of six ‘old and uneconomic’ prisons, but pledged to make sure there were enough spaces for the courts to send whoever they wanted to jail. He also unveiled plans to build a 2,000 space prison.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘These figures are highly selective. They fail to recognise that the average prison sentence length has increased by more than a year in the past decade and the use of out of court disposals is down by nearly 40 per cent.
‘Criminals should be in no doubt they will be punished for their crimes and those who commit the most serious offences will receive severe sentences.’
Religious rights to stay in Australia
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has assured religious groups they will have the "freedom" under a new rights bill to discriminate against homosexuals and others they deem sinners, according to the head of the Australian Christian Lobby.
Under current law, faith-based organisations, including schools and hospitals, can refuse to hire those they view as sinners if they consider it "is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion".
Ms Gillard has met Australian Christian Lobby managing director Jim Wallace several times, and he says she assured him "she has no intention of restricting freedom of religion" when it comes to religious groups' legal rights to discriminate in hiring and firing.
Discrimination by religious organisations affects thousands of Australians. The faiths are big employers, and the Catholic Church in particular is one of Australia's largest private employers.
They rely on government funding but because of their religious status are allowed to vet the sexual practices of potential employees in ways that would be illegal for non-religious organisations.
Labor often claims to represent progressive values and is led by an atheist, but the government has gone out of its way to placate religious organisations on this issue.
The woman who will be steering the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill through the Senate, Finance Minister Penny Wong, is a committed Christian and a lesbian.
Senator Wong said this week that Labor was "seeking to balance the existing law and the practice of religious exemptions with the principle of non-discrimination".
It is believed that senior Labor ministers have been making similar promises to the Christian lobby since Kevin Rudd was prime minister.
Before she was elected in 2010, Ms Gillard promised Mr Wallace in a filmed interview that she would protect the school chaplains program and that under her government "marriage will be defined as it is in our current Marriage Act as between a man and a woman".
She said that "we do not want to see the development of ceremonies that mimic marriage ceremonies".
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is adamant that the church should retain its rights to discriminate, but Anglicans are divided.
The more conservative Sydney diocese claims its right to discriminate against gays and lesbians and others whose "lifestyles" offend religious beliefs, Bishop Robert Forsyth of South Sydney said.
But social welfare charity Anglicare practises the opposite, South Australian branch chief executive, the Reverend Peter Sandeman said.
"Jesus didn't discriminate in who he associated with and helped and neither should we," Mr Sandeman said. "At Anglicare South Australia, we introduced a formal policy welcoming and supporting inclusion and diversity nearly a decade ago."
Jews "don't have a position on this", Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim said.
The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils did not respond to questions.
Labor's Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill was an attempt to consolidate the law, "not completely re-invent the anti-discrimination system", a spokeswoman for Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said.
"We are proud to be introducing important new protections from sexual orientation discrimination. While there are some exemptions, this doesn't detract from these important changes".
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.