The immigration issue is overshadowing the spirit of optimism which once defined Cameron's Conservatism

There is a danger that the buzz and momentum around that initial modernisation is being lost

Share
Related Topics

At the moment, nearly every day, I read newspaper headlines about how the Government is taking steps to prevent Romanians and Bulgarians from coming here simply to claim benefits. And in every Autumn Statement and Budget, the Government promises yet another crusade to slim the welfare budget.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s important that policymakers properly manage immigration and our welfare system. But it is misguided for the Conservative Party to make these issues so predominant, to clear everything else off the decks. Essentially, Downing Street’s messaging is currently narrow and too negative.

There was a generation of people in their twenties and thirties who were drawn to a modernised Conservative Party at the end of the last decade, who worked and campaigned hard for the party. They were attracted to the newly found optimism, open-mindedness and humanness of the party. There is a danger that the buzz and momentum around that modernisation is being lost.

The determination to find new ways to tackle poverty, beyond just mere cash transfers, stressing the role of parenting and a “Big Society” too, enthused the progressive-minded. There was a willingness to embrace new ideas – not just blindly following old ideological assumptions – to tackle a range of issues people deeply cared about: better schools and hospitals, the quality of childhood, the local environment. Cameron talked the language of families, not just about pounds and pence.

This liberal conservatism thrives across Whitehall department with positive and creative policy-making. But it is under the public radar, as Number Ten increasingly narrows its messaging and reacts to agendas too often set by opposition parties, Labour and Ukip.

What I find inspirational about Conservatism, and many others do too, is how positive it is about people’s potential, no matter their background or identity. Conservatism should always get behind and reward those working hard to succeed in life, trying to break into the labour market, the housing market and the world of business. This includes the overwhelming majority of immigrants and those on benefits.

Yet, policy attention on immigration and welfare is unbalanced at the moment. It’s cap central. A cap on immigrants. A cap on benefits. Strangely, no cap on pensioner benefits – which includes free TV licences and bus passes for the wealthy – which constitute the majority of the welfare budget.

Universal Credit, mired with technical problems, is stuck; sad, as it offers a positive vision for those trapped in worklessness, disentangling the complexity of a system where withdrawal rates often make work unworthwhile. So other positive policies are desperately needed, or more pessimistic noises on welfare will prevail. Raise the minimum wage and reward jobseekers who get into work quick.

On immigration, sure, ensure the relatively small amount of abuse of UK generosity is thwarted; but streamline visa applications, and take students out of the immigration cap, to show we’re also fully behind the brightest and the best coming here.

Ultimately, the Tories need a balanced position on immigration and welfare: that’s where the public are. But surely we came into politics, into government, to do much more than address the relatively small amount of abuse of our welfare and immigration systems? Broaden the message, talk about issues which deeply affect the majority of people: for instance, ideas to give more choice for parents to get their children into a good school, to make healthcare more responsive and humane, and to make the internet safer, especially for children. Ultimately, there must be a positive vision from Conservatives to win voters at the next election: a society where ambition and effort is always supported, and where families and relationships come first.

Ryan Shorthouse is the Director of Bright Blue

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a languages...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Randst...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: out of time, polling and immigration and old words

John Rentoul
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past