Taking inspiration from Benjamin Disraeli is a pretty radical move for a Labour leader, but a smart one. Regardless that the original One Nation ideology is more familiar to politics students than the average person, those two words combine to create a powerful emotional message. Some have asked whether Ed Miliband can successfully pull off his One Nation approach. The question is beside the point. If people associate a strong sense of national unity with a political leader, he stands to gain.
One Nation Labour could be an attractive rallying call for many feeling both economic climate, and suspicion that Labour stands only for unions and debt. Labour has a long way to go in winning back the trust of the people, but a call for unity will undoubtedly help. You can already see this in the dramatic improvement in Miliband's post-conference polling. If Miliband's problem is communication, then the Conservative Party's problem is its 'posh party' image. It's not an image that I, as someone who grew up on council estates, and came to the Conservatives later in life, relate to. And it's doesn't help the party electorally; in harsh economic times, it does quite the opposite.
Politics for the poor
Regardless of current conditions though, I believe that the Tory Party is strongest when it connects with the working classes, as Thatcher proved again and again. I'm sure the people at the top of the party are now looking for a direction which will carry them into the next Parliament as a government with its own majority. A resurgent Ed Miliband will only focus the minds of the Tory leaders. I'd like to make a suggestion: re-position the Tories as the one true champion of the working person. Drop the posh image once and for all and replace it with a new image centred around 'Everyman Conservatism'.
Some of my colleagues might baulk at this suggestion. Much of the Tory base could be considered 'posh', and nobody should be bashed for being posh. But Conservative does not mean posh. Conservative values are relevant to everyone; aspiration, hard work, responsibility benefit poor as well as rich, pleb as well as toff. We knew that in the 80s, but we sound like we've forgotten than in the great slump era of the 2010s.
Disraeli understood it well, and the Tories too could draw inspiration from him today. He was raised in privilege yes, but standing up for the poor of his era was one his main drivers in politics. Read this quote from his great work, The Vindication of the English Constitution: “An Englishman, however humble may be his birth... is born to the noblest of all inheritances, the equality of civil rights; he is born to freedom, he is born to justice, and he is born to property. There is no station to which he may not aspire; there is no master whom he is obliged to serve; there is no magistrate who dares imprison him against the law.”
Nobody would disagree with any of Disraeli's point in that quote, but few would associate rhetoric like that with the Tories. Nobody begrudges David Cameron or George Osborne their upbringing; it would be as unfair to exclude somebody from public life because of privilege, as it would for lack thereof. But people can rightly ask today, if the Cabinet is full of millionaires and gentry, how can they relate to the struggles of those they govern?
Nation of strivers
Ed Miliband is rolling his tanks onto Conservative lawn and it could pay off. The Tories should roll their own tanks; it's time for a wave of social Toryism, and that means putting the everyman and everywoman - the people who struggle to make ends meet each month but strive - at the heart of what the party does. I make three humble suggestions.
One, the selections for the 2015 election should be used to lift more working class Tories into Parliament, alongside a working group looking at how to attract working class people to run for office as a Conservative. Two, a new everyman policy drive is needed, to find out how to relieve the squeeze at the lower-middle end of the spectrum. The everyman is squeezed at the petrol pump, the supermarket and when they go on holiday; this needs to be addressed. Three, an image makeover is required; the country needs a reminder that despite its own privilege, this government has the hard-working women and men of Britain foremost in mind. The party must give 2015 candidates something tangible to say to voters when they complain of the 'posh boys'.
In the time I've spent canvassing voters for the Corby/East Northants by-election, I've heard how even some Conservative voters find the posh image a turn off in the current climate.
One Nation Labour is a very clever move by Ed Miliband. There is no guarantee that the Conservatives will win in 2015. It's time to get radical, and out-radical the competition, and that requires getting back in touch with the kinds of people who found Margaret Thatcher politically attractive. It would serve the Tories just as well to keep Disraeli in mind, as it has Labour.