With one of the closest General Elections in recent history upon us, Getintothis’ Jono Podmore delivers a damning report on a political curiosity, the working class Tory.
The election next month is being billed as some sort of sea-change in British politics, some great departure from the past brought about by the Nationalist parties, Greens and UKIPs breaking up forever the continual post-war system of a regular swing between Labour and the Conservatives.
But actually, the degree of change, the amount of people that really change their mind about whom to support and who to vote for, is surprisingly small. It’s that small amount of people who all the parties are out to convince, cajole, manipulate, threaten or bribe into voting for them.
The BBC website makes it clear that “…although there will be 650 individual contests in the 2015 general election, the outcome will be determined in a much smaller number. In 12 of the 17 general elections since 1950, fewer than one-in-ten seats changed hands from one party to another. Even in the massive Labour landslide of 1997, some 70% of seats stayed with the parties defending them.”
So actually most of us don’t change our mind – we stick to our tribe. We vote for who we’ve always voted for, who we identify with, who we define ourselves by with our support – the chieftains and standard bearers of our tribes.
Some of these tribal groupings are obvious. Capitalists and Union members being the most obvious and diametrically opposed. But by far the weirdest tribe that continues to confuse and surprise is working class Tories. A large and powerful group who continually and unswervingly vote for politicians who are out to make their lives more difficult and unrewarding, to strip opportunity from them.
In case you were in any doubt, this last Tory government has taken a big stick to the working class. The hike in VAT to 20% and reduction in income tax for the tiny proportion of millionaires in this country is a fine example. Purchase taxes are much loved by the rich because they work proportionally in reverse – both the billionaire and the benefit claimant pay the same amount of tax on a litre of petrol but for the billionaire it’s an insignificant percentage of his income, for the benefits claimant it could mean having to sell the car.
And while the current government were doing this to the working poor of Britain they were cutting tax to their tribe, their benefactors, shareholders and gamblers – The Bullingdon Club – by giving £3bn in tax cuts for the richest 1% in Britain. That’s more than double the amount lost to the treasury from benefit fraud (£1.2 bn according to DWP estimates).
Also by changing employment law the result is that people in work now have to claim benefits to survive, meaning the state now provides a giveaway the Tory constituency of shareholders in big businesses to the tune of £11bn.
So why would anyone who isn’t in that club, who would suffer from that sort of policy, even consider voting for a government that would do that to them?
There are so many examples of vicitimisation. The poor rely on the NHS, that’s one of the reasons why it was created. But the current Tory government has been trying every trick it can to remove that system altogether and replace it with a private insurance based scheme, with private hospitals, clinics and GPs. This would have the same proportional impact as the hike on VAT – a knee operation would cost the same to the poor as to the rich.
Or the bedroom tax – not exactly aimed at the denizens of Kensington and Chelsea is it?
The list is endless, as every single policy instituted by Cameron’s Tory party exists for one reason – to increase the wealth of their tribe. Whether it be by asset stripping of the state, war, taxation, removing state wage control, easing international finance regulation, right to buy schemes, free schools; it all exists for that one reason, either directly or to function as a sweetener to allow them to perpetrate this distribution of wealth upwards to the richest. Look at their manifesto and that motivation is transparent.
This drive to support the rich at the expense of the poor is often referred to by the left wing as “ideological”. I disagree. This is no ideology – this is greed and unrestrained selfism. Ideology if for philosophers and idealists, Tory party policy is nothing more than robbery of the state via political means and media control.
Britain is the 6th richest country in the world, but we have 913,000 people relying on food banks (means tested, not in any way a choice) and 5m people earning less than living wage, 700,000 of them on zero hours contracts. My question is how many of them will vote for the organisation who are doing this to them and why?
As regards my own tribal make-up, I’ve been a Labour voter all my life. Despite the strains, inconsistencies and mendacity of the Blair years, and the apparent charms of the Green Party, I will be voting Labour on May 7. There is a slight irrationality in there but I genuinely believe that the Labour Party are the only party at this election with the wherewithal to remove the Tories from power and set about repairing some of the damage of the last 5 years and begin instituting a fairer society.
But my Grandfather was a working class Tory. He lived in a council house all his life. As a diabetic who lived his last 10 years or so alone he relied heavily on the NHS and never paid for private healthcare. His three children were all educated at state schools. He survived 2 world wars and may have saved thousands of working class lives in Liverpool in his capacity as an air-raid warden during the blitz.
And yet no amount of statistics or demonstration of how the Labour Party had helped him so directly could shift him in his belief that it was the right and proper thing to vote for the Tories. In a city that had been systematically victimised by the policies of Thatcher-era conservatism, he was a Tory. But as he lived and died in the constituency of Bootle which has been a Labour held seat since 1945, his vote had little impact.
Across the country the working poor – particularly in the South – will be voting in a way that could lead them and the rest of us into less opportunity, less hope, more instability and more hardship in our lives.
Here are a few reasons:
The right to buy policy brought in by Thatcher’s Tory government of selling off council housing stock was one of the greatest coups in the history of British politics. Working class people could suddenly become homeowners with all the added security and flexibility that brought them.
They have been grateful ever since. But this was no gift to the working class to be able to control their own destinies, this was a gift to the Tory tribe, as every sale meant a mortgage with a healthy percent going into the financial sector and more debt to gamble with; and then later the stock was sold off into the hands of property tycoons – the same two groups whose greed lead to the 2008 financial crash and who are such generous donors to the Tories.
Equally damningly, the profits made from this sell-off weren’t put in to building more social housing. This sell-off is to be extended to housing association dwellings if another Tory government get in – a short term bribe to the poor leading to long term private wealth for an increasingly small group of individuals.
For some working class people their desire to better themselves leads them to feel the Tories represent the values that they adhere to, setting themselves apart from “common” people. As if the moral high ground is achieved through wealth and privilege. But even a cursory examination of the morality of the value system of modern Toryism reveals nothing but greed, selfism, financial short sightedness and corruption all packaged neatly with abuse.
Abuse itself seems to form an important part of the working class Tory mind-set. Slavishly adhering to an archaic system of standards and hierarchy: a patriarchy of “family values” that puts talented women back at the kitchen sink; or being in thrall of your hereditary superiors to your own detriment is allowing oneself to be abused – debasing yourself.
It seems the need for self-abasement is not just a posh thing, not just for the high court judge who, sexually damaged at boarding school needs to see a dominatrix once a week. It seems deeply engrained in our working class psyche too, with symptoms ranging from the “not for the likes of us” self-imposed restriction, up to turning a blind eye to kids and the vulnerable being systematically physically and sexually abused by establishment figures.
Working class Tories like to feel the rod on their backs, they like to know their place, supporting and maintaining a value system that brings them only wage-slavery and makes their children vulnerable to a predatory elite. Their position in the patriarchy is well defined by the confidence and sense of entitlement of their immediate superiors, by working class capitalist icons like Alan Sugar, by the military’s conditioning power over the working class who join up to better themselves.
This finds its ultimate expression in adoration of the Royal Family. And despite the injustice of it all, the working class Tory is comfortable with this.
In certain areas of Britain there is a sectarian element to the working class Tory. Protestants can, when under a perceived threat identify their religious culture with true blue, patriotic Tory values. Of course there is no reason to assume that right wing politicians are in anyway more patriotic that anyone else, but defence of the protestant establishment, of the cruel and inefficient division in British society that fuels so much injustice is at the root of much old school Tory thinking.
Sickeningly with the current Tory party, the establishment they are protecting and working for are international capitalists, hedge fund managers, etc. They may be from the ranks of the privileged old aristocratic strata in the hierarchy but their tribe, their paymasters and peers are a different bunch altogether.
Confidence in the British establishment, British values and religion can make working class people easy pickings for the Tory press. To maintain votes from these people they simply have to wield their power in the media to conflate stories of a threat to the protestant British way of life, generating paranoia and a panicky need to defend themselves from Muslims who would ban Christmas, lazy bastards living on benefits, foreigners stealing their jobs and their garden furniture, etc.
All spurious divisive drivel of course, wrapped up with language and interests to appear to side with the working class. Even Kelvin Mackenzie has worked out how ridiculous the fear of foreigners is, and the figures about benefit fraud and tax evasion strike a stark contrast to public perception: £1.2bn lost through benefit fraud compared to £34bn through tax avoidance.
But this right wing strategy has backfired for the Tories of late by confusing working class Tories even further by offering them the equally repulsive UKIP as a choice. Decisions, decisions…
The last aspect of Toryism I can think of that would appeal to our poor, out-manoeuvred, deluded working class Tory is financial authority. There is a bewildered reverence for the clever business people and aristocrats that do all that sophisticated stuff with the money. They have been doing it a long time so they must know what they are doing. Tug your forelock and let them get on with it – it’s the decent thing to do.
And if they need to destroy our public services and inflict austerity on us all then they must be doing it to balance the books, like good housekeepers or grocers. But have a look at the numbers and Tory incompetence and arrogance shines through. In 2010 the Tories inherited a national debt of £760 bn, which has grown under their auspices to £1,355 bn – just under doubling what the austerity programme was ostensibly designed to tackle.
A nation is not a house or a Grocer’s shop – the finances work completely differently. This mythological over-simplification is promoted by right-wing governments worldwide to justify austerity and punishment of the weakest and most vulnerable – they are just tightening our belts for us to see us through hard times. The reality is very different.
To make a nation’s finances function you need to empower the population to generate wealth and that takes investment in education, infrastructure and enabling the poor, disabled and weak to participate in the economy. Fleecing them to benefit your tiny privileged elite will only lead eventually to a feudal failed state.
So what to do with our working class Tory brothers and sisters? Berate them for their ignorance? Smother them with more confusing facts and figures? Maybe they’ve suffered enough. Perhaps a little support and comfort? Probably a case by case basis is the way forward but the perversity of their position is evidence of how deep and psychologically founded it is. Wrapped up in so many fears and identity issues that it’s almost a medical condition – something a few statistics and a quick chat after Question Time isn’t going to solve.
But in the remaining couple of weeks before the election, have a chat to any working class Tories you know and try to see what they are really thinking, what scares them. Maybe remind them that who they are about to vote for is another tribe, not their own or their representatives’.
This other tribe got the best government money could buy for their own purposes in 2010 – working class Tories can’t afford that. Or maybe ask them if they think it’s true that the only way to motivate poor people is to give them less money and the only way to motivate rich people is to give them more money.
Worth a try.
In fact anything is worth a try to rid the British government of the dangerous, cruel and privileged financial elite of the Tory party.