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July 08, 2005

New Labour will keep on winning - unless the Tories have a credible story: fighting privilege could be the story

Posted by Watlington

New Labour will keep on winning - unless the Tories have a credible story. David Davis is right to argue that fighting privilege could be this story, argues Watlington. To make this message credible, says Watlington, Davis must show that his stand against privilege is more than just a jibe at the "Notting Hill set". Davis will have to break out of the Westminster village and speak passionately and from the heart against privilege and for a society which offers opportunity to all. As with everything the Social Affairs Unit publishes the views expressed in this article are those of the author, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its advisors, Director or Trustees.

Picture the scene. It is middle of the week. A small betting shop in a city suburb. Inside are groups of individuals, mainly men, mainly elderly, excited about the races. Who is backing which horse? Who is the current favourite? Who are the runners and riders? Most of these men have been in the betting shop for much of the afternoon having spent lunch in a nearby Pub. Most of them turn up to the betting shop nearly every day.

Outside the betting shop, most passers by are oblivious to what is going on. Some are on their way to and from work, some are mothers picking up their children from school, others may be just enjoying the sunshine. For most of these people the only time they are interested in the betting shop is on special days like The Derby or Grand National. But for the people inside, the betting shop is the centre of their world.

Now look at the Conservative leadership contest. In the Westminster village, Tory MPs, apparatchiks and activists rush around in a state of excitement. Who is up and who is down? Who is backing who? Who is joining which leadership campaign? One can feel the frisson, the thrill as the discussions take place. Sadly outside the Westminster village, just like outside the small betting shop, nobody else cares. True they might be more interested in big days like the General Election, but even then, they prefer to get on with their daily lives. And why should it be any different? So far almost every speech by a Conservative leadership contender has been clichéd, predictable and uninspiring.

Meanwhile, with the Tories scurrying around their betting shop, Mr Blair goes from strength to strength. A few weeks ago, he was seen by many in the public as a cross between Elmer Gantry and Josef Goebbels, a snake oil salesman but a brilliant propagandist. Since the election, with nothing to lose, he has capitalised on the Tory disarray and started acting like a Conservative Statesman. First, he used the No votes on the constitution to launch an assault on the European Union. Second, he fought and won the Olympics for London. Third, after the London bombings, he is leading the war on terror. How ironic it could be if we approach the next election with Mr Blair as popular as he was in 1997, before the disillusionment set in.

As always in politics there is a caveat to all this. It still is possible that the economy could falter, particularly with personal debt now over one trillion pounds. If the housing market collapses and bankruptcies increase, whatever the standing of Mr Blair and Mr Brown, New Labour will not be forgiven. But this does not necessarily mean that disillusioned voters will come over to the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats made a net gain of ten extra seats (or eleven if seat changes are taken into account) at the last election and it is not inconceivable that they could win more.

So what can the Conservatives do. The answer is to get out of the Westminster betting shop, stop making Tory speeches at grand Westminster venues and start campaigning around the country, starting by visiting Britain's poorest areas.

If there is one person well placed to break free of Westminster it is David Davis. Last week in what was seen as a worthy but not exceptional speech, Mr Davis made one important remark. He said he would be standing against "privilege".

Although seen by some as an attack on the Notting Hill set, Mr Davis was making a much wider point. He was saying that as someone from humble origins who had made it to the top, he knew about aspiration and merit as opposed to privilege and patronage. Herein lies a kernel of a modern Tory story.

It is a story that fights against privilege wherever it occurs. For example a mission against privilege says that everyone, rather than just the pushy or the rich, should have access to the best healthcare and education and have the levers of power to make sure that this is so. It says that the lowest paid should pay less tax so that they have the same opportunity as higher rate tax payers. It says that Conservatism should stand up for the small business rather than the unfair cartels of the multinationals. Above all, an attack on privilege means a sense of social justice. It means an open society based on giving people a fair deal rather than one in which all the levers of power are in the hands of the state. It means a society that liberates economic and social entrepreneurs to fulfil their potential but also ensures that those left behind are properly and compassionately cared for.

After Mr Davis's speech, a member of the audience was heard to remark: "I wanted to be swept off my feet and I wasn't. I wanted to feel that Mr Davis was fighting for me and would stand up for me but he didn't ".

The truth is that Mr Davis has a tremendous opportunity. He looks the part and has a wonderful story to sell. Unless he begins to break out of the Westminster village and remove himself from all the scheming and plotting (that is so irrelevant to the outside world), unless he speaks passionately from the heart against privilege, for social justice and connects with real voters, then whilst he may win the Conservative leadership, he will not be Prime Minister and New Labour will win a fourth term.

To read more by Watlington, see Watlington.


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Comments

Privilege has moved with power into the hands of unelected Quangoes and barely accountable departments in the Public Sector.
Opportunity for all can come about when we lift the burden of regulation and arbitrary state control which differentially disadvantages the already disadvantaged.
Since the election the debate has moved on very constructively within the Tory Party - well done to Douglas Carswell and others!
Tom Langdon-Davies,
Chair, Devon Towns Forum

Posted by: Tom Langdon-Davies at July 11, 2005 10:09 AM
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Who is "Watlington"? On the Social Affairs Unit we first had the "anonymous commentator" giving - rather interesting" - election comment; now we have "Watlington" commenting on Westminster, and the Tory leadership. Are they one and the same person? - probably not as they write rather differently. Intriguing.

Posted by: Jonathan at July 12, 2005 02:33 PM
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