The Conservative Party is having an identity crisis, anxious that it is currently unrepresentative of - and unattractive to - many parts of modern Britain. So this week it has floated the idea of badging itself as The Workers Party, with ladders as its logo, to appeal to many of those on modest incomes who too often think the Tories are “the party of the rich”.
It is right that the party does more to represent and support hard-working, aspirational people, both politically and morally. As Neil O’Brien and Anthony Wells showed in their report, Northern lights, the governing party of the date is almost always the one leads among C2 voters, the skilled working class. Cameron needs to do more to woo them.
More importantly, hard-working people on ordinary incomes have, on average, seen a reduction in their living standards for nearly a decade as a result of stagnant wages and rising prices.
Political and policy resource should be dedicated to correcting this unfairness, and giving hope for these families. Hence recent calls from leading Conservatives to strengthen the minimum wage and further reduce taxation on low-income workers. The party should concentrate on this agenda between now and the next election.
However, a note of caution. The rebranding follows criticism - often within the Conservative Party itself - that the Tories are becoming a club for posh boys with a cabal of Etonians writing the next Conservative manifesto. Not only is this untrue, it whiffs of class politics. Very un-Conservative.
You see, those on the centre-right are typically cautious about identity politics. It can often be pushed by those keen to signify their specialness. And, at its extreme, it can conjure division between – and inaccurate and unhelpful stereotyping - of different social groups. Though individuality and diversity should be celebrated, it is important to emphasise shared values and customs to encourage inclusiveness and strengthen a civilised, flourishing society.
Conservatism is most compelling and powerful when it advocates that you should be treated and rewarded on the basis of your contribution and ideals, not your identity or background. A “classless society”, as John Major famously commented. So it doesn’t matter whether you went to Eton or a school in East London, Conservatism is for you because of the values you support: hard work, yes, but commitment and responsibility, and care for the vulnerable too.
So of course, the Conservatives need to be the party for workers. But also the party for those out of work, the vast majority of whom are desperately trying to find a decent job. And the party for those who have retired, those caring for children, and those volunteering, all contributing enormously. A party of the right values – aspiration, family, compassion - not the “right” people.