1st October 2017
Theresa May – not spreading much opportunity
The depth of divisions within the Conservative Party are clear, even before a word is spoken at their annual conference in Manchester this week. Boris Johnson, once again slightly overstepping his brief as Foreign Secretary, has intervened to make clear his position on the Brexit negotiations. Nothing unusual there, Johnson’s leadership ambitions are as naked as they are well documented. However, for Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, to be equivocal in his support for Theresa May suggests a far deeper malaise at the heart of the Tory leadership.
Asked by The Observer (1/10/17) whether Javid believed May was the right person to lead the Tories into the next election the interview concludes,
“He waits several seconds, smiles, then stands and offers his hand. “I think we are out of time,” he says, leaving us to draw the obvious conclusion.”
The trick for May this week is to attempt to paper over the cracks and convince enough of the delegates and Parliamentary Party that she is the person to lead them in Brexit negotiations and into the next election. Strong and stable anyone?
One influential Tory, Matthew Parris, has already described May as being “in a hostage situation”. He may have added that she would not get many takers to pay the ransom. Only Damian Green appears to be prepared to make any effort to bail out the waters from the sinking ship. Most others look more or less prepared to simply bail out themselves, when the time looks right.
In a desperate attempt to shore things up with younger voters, the conference is set to announce a series of policy initiatives, including freezing tuition fees; upping the earnings level at which students need to begin paying back student loans; and a £10bn expansion of the Help to Buy scheme, presumably from the same money tree used to buy off the Democratic Unionists votes in Parliament.
For May these are “key parts of my plan to spread opportunity and build a better future for our country.” For most of us they will be seen as a desperate set of too little, too late initiatives, which simply underline how far out of touch the Tories have been with the concerns of many ordinary people and for how long.
The appeal to the young, at least those under the age of 45, is in part a response to a recent poll by the Social Market Foundation, which confirms the outcome of the June General Election that the youth vote is overwhelmingly with Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. Tellingly, amongst voters in this age group, 76% regard the Tories as the party for “richer people” rather than the less wealthy.
Experience is, as ever, a great teacher. Whatever rhetorical flourish May gives to her desire to “spread opportunity” the reality on the ground is that opportunity is not being spread. Many younger people find themselves with crippling student debt. They find themselves unable to get on the housing ladder. They find themselves increasingly unable to afford rent or must opt for poor quality accommodation as the social housing market contracts. Whatever it is that May means by spreading opportunity, it simply does not accord with the lives many young people are forced to live.
The resonance of the Labour message, For the Many, Not the Few could hardly be more relevant. A positive conference for Labour has seen the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and his keys policies endorsed. As things stand in the UK at present this is the only flag around which the working class, young people, women, ethnic minorities, those with disabilities and those hoping to change the basis of society for the better, can unite.
The Tories will struggle to keep it together in Manchester this week. The reality is that the sooner it falls apart, the better for all of us.