Prime minister David Cameron has again announced in his Tory Conference speech yesterday (October 7) that his is the party of working people. It’s his latest in a number of attempts to stretch the Tory party’s appeal beyond the confines of a powerful and moneyed elite.
But make no mistake – the Conservative party has not changed any of its policies or values. Instead, it has widened its tent through a flourish of rhetoric.
Cameron coated his speech with “compassionate Conservatism” but what, exactly, lies beneath his newfound prostrations to social justice and equality?
Decent jobs and homes
“[British people] just want a government that supports the vulnerable…Good jobs; a decent home; controlled immigration.”
The government that the British people purportedly want has no resemblance to Cameron’s time as leader.
“Support for the vulnerable” has plummeted as the austerity axe has fallen hard on the welfare budget, with food bank users topping out at an all-time record of 1m last year.
In terms of “good jobs”, nearly half of the new jobs created since 2010 are temporary and insecure.
What about “decent homes”? A 2007 report found that 250,000 homes needed to be built each year to contain spiralling housing costs and provide enough “decent” affordable homes. This target was badly missed every single year under the coalition government, with 2012 being the worst year for housebuilding since the Second World War.
As far as “controlling immigration”, under Cameron’s watch, immigration has exploded, hitting a record of 318,000 last year, just shy of a peak in 2005.
“We’ve been helping [Syrians] over the past four years, giving more in aid to that part of the world than any other country except America.”
“And we have been able to do that because this party made a promise and kept a promise – to spend 0.7 per cent of our national income on aid.”
Commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on aid was nearly foiled last year when Conservative MPs tried to block the Lib-Dem bill that would enshrine the 0.7 per cent pledge into law.
At the time, Tory foreign secretary Phillip Hammond called the commitment “bizarre”.
“Who do you think got Europe to open trade talks with America, which would be the biggest trade deal in our history? Us. Britain. We did…I’m only interested in two things: Britain’s prosperity and Britain’s influence.”
The trade deal to which Cameron refers, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), will actually hit Britain’s prosperity hard. One independent analysis estimates that 600,000 jobs across the EU would be lost as a result of TTIP by 2025.
The UK would see one of the largest reductions in annual incomes for working people, plummeting by €4,200 (£3,085) per capita each year.
“We’ll never deal with poverty unless we get to grips with these issues. We made a start in the last five years with our Troubled Families programme. It’s already turned around the lives of over 100,000 families.”
Head of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) Johnathan Portes earlier this year condemned the way in which the government was calling the Troubled Families programme a success, saying the figures the government released was “pure, unadulterated fiction”.
“They are looking for positive stories about a programme for which it is simply too early to give any sort of verdict,” Portes wrote in NIESR’s blog. “So they are making claims that are not true. Deliberately misleading the public is not public service.”
National ‘living’ wage
“Yes, a new National Living Wage. Over £9 an hour by the end of the decade. An £80-a-week pay rise for the lowest paid. Work paying for millions of people. So let the message go out: if you work hard, want to get on, want more money at the end of the month, the party for you is right here in this hall.”
In a cheap rebranding of the National Minimum Wage, the so-called National Living Wage is anything but. After the Tories pushed through £4.4bn in cuts to working tax credits, low-income families will be on average £1,000 a year worse off. One study found that in order to make up for the cuts to tax credits, the National Minimum Wage would have to go up to nearly £12 an hour immediately for working people to “have more money at the end of the month”.
Stop and search
“Opportunity doesn’t mean much to a black person constantly stopped and searched by the police because of the colour of their skin.”
Cameron has been a long-time proponent of stop-and-search. He even went so far in 2008 to dismiss claims that stop-and-search lead to bad community relations with police and argued that police were no longer racist.
Supporting scrapping laws that would make stop-and-search more difficult to carry out, Cameron also noted that black and Asian communities would simply have to accept being and stopped and search more often for their own good.
If one thing is clear from the Cameron’s appropriation of Labour’s language, it’s this – a galvanised movement of working people ready to challenge austerity is something that the Tories can see on the horizon. And as it gathers momentum, it’s something that they fear.