Monday, 22 October 2012

Class and politics

In many ways politics used to be simple. Labour, built around unions, was for the working man. Conservatism was for rich folks (or southerners). Things are different now. Change to a service based economy has all but destroyed the traditional Labour base, with the public sector now the most heavily unionised industry. This change has been accompanied by a broadening of the welfare state with many middle class people now net beneficiaries.

Changes to the economy have changed the debate too. Growth cannot be taken for granted. Britain's place at the top of the pile is no certain thing. This is no longer a discussion about sharing the proceeds of growth: we're talking about how to make sure the country survives with relative wealth.

The ideological conflict that results from this is not about class. It is about conceptions of the world and how to succeed within it. On one hand are state based solutions, where the state acts to pour money into the economy and into redistributive measures. This money comes from either borrowing or taxation. The other argument suggests the state steps back and allows the market (through the agency of individuals) to flourish.

These are not issues about where you are from, what level of education you have reached, or what your income is. You can belong to any socio-economic grouping and hold either of these views.

I am a Conservative. Not because I want to keep rich people rich and poor people poor, but because I believe in the ability of individuals to achieve. I believe in people keeping as much of what they earn as is possible. I believe in the market as being vital for creating incentives to work and innovate. I believe in the state as being a facilitator and a safety net.

This should be the message of the modern Conservative Party. It is about creating equality of opportunity through good quality education for all. It is about empowering people to set their sights high, and creating the economic incentives to do so. It is also about maintaining our commitment to care for those in our society who are vulnerable.