Progressive thinking can come from surprising directions

‘More Human’, by one of Cameron’s most trusted friends, is, in parts, more unabashedly moral than any by Labour insiders

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The Independent Online

Five years. Five years of Tory hubris and callous, divisive policies. After this government is done, Thatcherism will seem compassionate and benevolent. We social democrats are left with deep grief and psychic wounds. Labour’s internecine quarrels and stagger to the right makes the desolation worse. Alan Johnson, poor boy made good, mainly by selling his poor-boy-made-good story, now says his party failed to win over “aspirational” people. Peter Benjamin Mandelson, aka Baron Mandelson, Privy Councillor, reiterates the message, as do other Blairites. Does the word describe the lone, Labour-voting mum who wants better for her kids? Or is it the pushy Tiger Mum from the middle classes who wants to maintain generational status and privileges?

The Conservatives gained 36.9 per cent of the vote. But since the turnout on 7 May was only 66 per cent, that 36.9 per cent represents just 24 per cent of the total electorate: in other words, only 24 per cent of all those who could have voted put the Tories into power. Yet the main opposition party offers not a positive alternative (as Nicola Sturgeon did), but shoddy, unprincipled, derivative politics, striving to please that 24 per cent and disregarding the millions who have either given up or who voted against a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, never even pretends to care about the bonds of society, or equity and mutuality. He is cold, instrumental, powerful and on course to serve his class (and those above it), wasting the hopes and lives of those who, he considers, do not matter. Iain Duncan Smith appears to enjoy humiliating and punishing citizens who depend on the state. John Whittingdale (who voted against same-sex marriage and equal pay laws), now in charge of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, seems determined to bring the BBC to its knees. Oh, and to remove cumbersome regulations on gambling. It is truly scary.

We could give up altogether, those of us who want a fair, equal, just society. Or we can become less tribal and try to listen to and support ameliorating influences within the Tory party. No I am not turning right, like many do as they get older. I am going the other way. But sulking or sniping for five years would be self-indulgent and worse than useless. Not all Tories are bastards. There are MPs in the winning party who don’t want benefits cut further, and others who believe in the European Union and are staunch defenders of the Human Rights Act.

David Davis and Dominic Grieve will fight hard against plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a more tepid British Bill of Rights; Ken Clarke will do the same to stay in the EU. I can’t say I like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, now the Justice Secretary, but that hardly matters. What does matter is that both are calling for a proper living wage and other measures to shift perceptions of the Tories as distant toffs. I know two women who run small businesses who could not bring themselves to vote Tory this time. One of them told me: “Of course, they are good for me. Who, in business, doesn’t want a free hand and low taxes? But I didn’t like the way they were attacking people on benefits. I had to ask for housing benefit when my husband died and left behind big debts. I was lucky. Many people are not. They don’t understand that.”

 

I suggest that David Cameron himself is aware of, and possibly slightly troubled by, the discordance between his fine postures – the Green warrior, the caring Conservative, jogging metro-man, modern husband and dad – and the brutish, iniquitous laws that his hardline cabinet is set to pass. That must be why his post-election speech seemed conciliatory and righteous: “We must bring our country together. We will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom … it means giving everyone in the country a chance … no matter where you are from, you will have the opportunity to make the most of your life.” Did that come out of guilt and shame or was it slick PR? Don’t know.

But, hark, here comes one of his most trusted friends and “blue sky” gurus, Steve Hilton, who has written a book, More Human, which, in parts, is bolder, more unabashedly moral than any by Labour insiders. Hilton went off to the US in 2012 when his wife got a top job at Google. Until then, he had advocated savage cuts to the civil service and welfare budgets. Now he sees the path to enlightenment and repudiates his own previous self. I confess I was both startled and then seduced by his words and ideas. My husband, in turn, was startled by my enthusiastic yelps as I read. He remains cynical and probably thinks post-election blues have weakened my political resolve, making me susceptible to smart Tory talk.

Here is what Hilton has to say: “… our democracies are increasingly captured by a ruling class that seeks to perpetuate its privileges…. At least in America, economic, cultural and political power is dispersed. In the UK, centralisation is a gift to the vested interests. When the corporate bosses, the MPs, the journalists – and authors of books such as mine – all go to the same dinner parties and social events, all live near one another, all send their children to the same schools (from which they themselves came), an insular ruling class develops…. It is a democracy in name only, operating on behalf of a tiny elite no matter the electoral outcome. I know because I was part of it.”

He goes on to argue for decent wages, for people to be protected from ugly human impulses such as “avarice, malice and intolerance”. This globally respected thinker may just move and affect the right-wing cabinet and PM. He will, for sure, inspire younger, idealistic Tories. Labour movers and shakers, at present muddled and craven, should support fair-minded Tories and welcome Hilton’s intervention. They should learn from him and admit that real progressive thinking can sometimes come from the enemy. Will they? Some hope.

Twitter: @y_alibhai