Where did the ‘One Nation’ Tories go?

Because my politics is not tribally based I hope I can try to look at the politics of other parties with at least a degree of objectivity. On this occasion, I want to look at the modern-day Conservative Party and contrast it with its not too distant past.

I look upon the present-day Conservative Party as one which seems to present itself, almost proudly, as being the party of spivs and chancers. In my view, it’s a very different beast from the former ‘One Nation’ Conservative Party of say Ken Clarke or John Major and the significant shift is possibly one that started less than 25 years ago.

My Dad, George Robertson, was a Tory, sometimes a Party member and a one-time Director of Maghull Conservative Club. Through him and via my time as a local councillor I have met many Conservatives. In straightforward terms, I’d say the vast majority of them were reasonably comfortable middle-class folk who wanted low taxes, strong law and order, their wealth protected and they could not abide liers, spivs and chancers – not cricket, un-English and rotters are how I think they’d see them.

Obviously, I did not share Dad’s politics but on one occasion, when he had the opportunity to vote for me (as I was standing in the ward he lived in), he told me that he had done so. It led to an amusing (for both of us) exchange where I pointed out that he should have voted Labour as I was too left-wing for him. However, whilst not supporting his politics I had the opportunity to try to understand them. Each day he would read his Daily Telegraph and he’d make remarks about Margaret Thatcher (I think he wondered if she was a bit too soft at times!), Tony Blair (he was far too much of a leftie for Dad), John Major (possibly too much of a leftie for the Tory Party) etc. etc. What became apparent to me was that Dad was worried about where the Tory Party was heading and indeed the Daily Telegraph too.

If I understood him correctly, he feared that standards were dropping, that spivs and chancers were coming to the fore in his party and I think his views were shared within his circle of Conservative supporting friends. To put this in context Dad died in January 2009, so I’m talking about things going on within and around the Tory Party in the years before then.

Obviously, all political parties evolve over time and they, in UK terms, drift around the political spectrum driven by political dogma or events beyond their control. However, what Dad saw happening to his Party in say the 10+ years prior to his death and then taking into account what has subsequently taken place, hasn’t the present-day Conservative Party fundamentally changed in ways that would have seemed inconceivable only 25 years ago? If Dad was concerned about the rise of spivs and chancers 15 years ago, what on earth would he think of the Tories as they present themselves now?!

So where have the Conservatives of the not so distant past gone to? Yes, many will have passed away, some will have all but been thrown out of the Tory Party and others will have left of their own accord. Yet, even taking that all into account, where have the ‘One Nation’ Tories gone to? Who are they supporting politically in the very much changed right-of-centre political spectrum?

Starmer’s Labour Party seems to be on a mission to recapture the white, working-class, right-wing voters who switched to the Tories in recent years. To do that Labour needs to look, at least to that section of the electorate, more than a little Tory and to have a policy stance right-of-centre. But, of course, these presently Tory backing electors are not middle-class, they don’t have the same values as ‘One Nation’ Tories did so is there any wonder that they’ve changed the Tory Party quite fundamentally. Indeed, Johnson and Starmer act as if the white, working-class, right-wingers are the only part of the electorate they have any interest in!

This situation leaves the majority of the electorate with a feeling of being unwanted unless, of course, they are tribal Tory or Labour voters who will continue to support their own clan no matter what it stands for. But look at it this way, who is fighting for the poor and disadvantaged in our society and who is now fighting for the middle classes? If Labour and Tories are only interested in white, working-class, right-wing voters (predominately those in work) then it means other sections of our society are being politically cut adrift but with the hope that tribal party loyalty will pull them in to vote for their usual party.

We are used to the Labour Party swinging from left to right as such has always been the case, but my view is that the Tory Party is now a very different animal from the one it was only a generation ago. Our politics, in general, is more right-wing as a right-drifting Tory Party has pulled Labour along with it too. As a Social Liberal of the left, I also worry that the Lib Dems have lost some of their radical, progressive edge which was more evident in the Charles Kennedy era.

So my case is that the Conservative Party has fundamentally changed, it has lost its previously dominant ‘One Nation’ Tories and to me, it looks like it has very much embraced spivs and chancers. A party where any form of common, mutual or state ownership is deemed to be another act of socialism that needs to be put back in the private sector. One Nation Tories could at least see a place for some public services being in public hands. And of course, the change here is that the Tory policy agenda these days seemingly has the ‘backing’ of the white, working-class, right-wingers, although in reality they are very much being played as the Conservative Party will always be about the comfortable and wealthy.

And oh yes, what about Partygate? Well, my old Dad being a Conservative with standards thought Boris Johnson was a wrongun donkey’s years ago. I think he’d have said about recent events that the man is no Conservative and should never have been elected as their leader. Indeed, I’m pretty sure Dad would have walked away from the Tories when Johnson became their leader, such was his dislike of the man.

A New Year message from Kia Strummer – Leader of the UK’s Supportive Opposition

Well, where to start? OK, probably best to term this an apology rather than pretending to be upbeat.

Labour has been in a mess for a long time now but we do like a good bit of internal warfare as it helps the Tories and frankly, they need all the help they can get presently. If you look back we’ve helped the Tories with Brexit by trying very hard not to oppose them whilst taking our place on the Brexit fence leaning both ways at the same time. I think we succeeded in that aim very well but that fence was very uncomfortable.

Our real battle with the Tories (the only one really) is for those pesky white, right-wing, working-class voters who used to back Labour but who deserted us in their droves because of our Brexit, or Lexit as we like to call it, stance. We’ve been seen as the ‘muddle in the middle’ by those Brexit backing voters, stuck between the pro-EU Libs and Brexit loving Tories. But we want those right-wingers back where they should be within Labour and we’re prepared to do all that’s required to get them back.

So here are my questions – Do we need to sound more right-wing, even more than Labour does already? We could get Rachel Reeves to re-run her 2013 idea to be harder on benefits than the Tories if that would do the trick? Or how about Labour going back to its socialist roots in a right-wing way? Jez Corbyn tried that in a left-wing way and it went down like a brick budgie with the right-wingers who beggared off to the Tories. Please, please, I’m begging you; let me know your ideas to get right of centre voters back in their Labour home.

And speaking of Jez Corbyn, it was a huge laugh for Labour right-wingers when we were trying to look like we were backing him whilst we were actually trying to do him in as our leader. There were many social democrat-type MPs singing the Jez/Momentum tune so as not to be deselected and constituency Labour parties across the UK were pretty much all fooled by some terrible acting. But seriously the right is back in control of Labour again, at least until the next round of left V right which may well be just around the corner. So Labour needs to look and feel Tory whilst not being seen as Tory at all, maybe we could aim to be One Nation (Tory) Labour? Someone dig out Ted Heath’s policies, please.

So Labour is clear, in 2022 we’ll be swinging more to the right and less to the left, in fact, if we can drop anything remotely leftie from our policies then so much the better. Yes I know, Labour is always stuck in the past, refighting old battles with Thatcher and Blair but by becoming One Nation Labour we can go back to the halcyon days of the 3 day week and put the 1970s to rights. If that doesn’t get the white, working-class, right-wingers back nothing will!

So that’s Labour’s plan. Like it? Got any right of centre policies you think Labour should adopt? Why not drop me a line via a handwritten letter, very 1970s!

PS. I recently thought of that iconic 1979 Liberal poster, the one with David Steel (he was a bit of a leftie I’m told) in the middle of Thatcher and Jim Callaghan. Well, a remake of that classic poster could have the Labour Leader (not sure how long I’ll last in the job) in the middle with Tory and Lib Dem leaders on either side. Those Libs are still lefties so Tim Farron tells me, so with a new Labour slogan – Go muddle in the middle – all will end well for our reinvented Ted Heath-type Labour Party. What could go wrong?

Driving UK society to a new ‘wild west’?

If we can get away with it, it’s OK. Our leaders don’t follow the rules, so neither will we. It’s every man and woman for themselves. We are all Thatcher’s children. Grab what you can before anyone else does.

I put it that such is starting to characterise what is happening to our UK society which was once thought to be very stable and law-abiding.

A process that has probably been well in train and developing for many years seems to have accelerated since lockdown, indeed you could say it’s been driven with the foot very much down to the boards. The end result is one of us becoming a more self-centred and isolationist society. Wasn’t it Thatcher who said there’s no such thing as society? Well in 2021 that’s even more true than when she said it 40 years ago. We seem to have a significant section of present-day society that does not see itself as being a part of anything much at all and certainly not part of a neighbourhood or community, and very much not part of a wider world!

You see this most obviously on our ‘wild west’ roads where pretty much anything goes these days. I never fail to be troubled, and this is pretty much every time I leave our house by cycle or car, at lunatic driving. Not just breaking the speed limit but doubling it and red-light running is something I now expect to see at every traffic-lighted junction and Pelican Crossing as opposed to a once in a blue moon thing it was say 20 years ago. Litter comes tumbling out of cars at junctions, even dirty nappies. Anyone who drives at or just below the speed limit is hounded by abusive drivers who feel entitled to do whatever speed they wish and who know the chances of being caught doing it by the powers that be are all but non-existent.

And then I look at our wretched government which seems to lead this wild west society by doing just as it pleases and beggar the consequences. Yes, of course, I’m no Tory so I do have an axe to grind against them but surely the modern Tory Party is a world away from what it once was? A party which has always had its spivs and wide boys but which kept them firmly in the background now seems to celebrate dodgy doings and those who do them!

My Dad’s family were working-class Tories living in a council house but with a few unfortunate exceptions, in terms of beliefs, they were decent and law-abiding. The exceptions being, anti-semitism and anti-Catholicism. Dad died in 2009 but even back then he was clearly troubled by the declining standards within the Tory Party; his views on Johnson are unprintable. He once told me that his concerns mirrored what he saw as the decline in his much loved Daily Telegraph newspaper. He could not be doing with dishonesty and could not understand the drift of the Tory Party he had been a member (off and on) and supporter of his whole adult life.

Yet will this drift towards a wild west-type society be tackled or have we gone too far for any politicians to have the guts to stand against selfishness, I know best and sod everyone else I’m doing what I want attitudes? I have my doubts as bit by bit Johnson has been taking us towards a Trumpian-type society and it is very difficult having in effect endorsed a ‘do as you please there’ll be no consequences’ approach to then haul that back. That horse has bolted and the opposition looks too weak and ineffective to address matters; best to not see what’s going on.

As a Social Liberal, my guiding principle is along the lines of we should be free to do as we wish so long as we are not harming others and the environment in exercising our freedoms. If we learn that what we doing is hurting others/the environment then we should try to restrain our freedoms accordingly, but I appreciate that many Conservatives and indeed Labour supporters would not support such a view of our world.

On the whole, I’m pessimistic about our direction of travel not least because it will inevitably lead to the poor becoming poorer and the powerful grabbing an even bigger share of our ever more unequal society.

1979 – My political awakening

The Liberal Party leaflet scanned above is from the period of my party political awakening and as I’ve said before on this blog site I ended up joining the old Liberal Party on New Year’s day 1980. I mention it now because my dear friend Peter Gibson presented me with the leaflet a few days ago as he thought I’d like and appreciate it. He was right.

My original grasp at politics was with a small ‘p’ when I decided to become an activist in my trade union IRSF (Inland Revenue Staff Federation) in 1978 and it was only after this that my thoughts turned to politics with a big ‘P’. I was sure I was not a Conservative as at the time I lived with a sometimes card-carrying one (my Dad) but frankly I was not particularly well versed in party politics. This pondering was brought to a head by my old friend Andrew Beattie who sadly died back in 1999. Andrew obtained the 1979 GE manifestos of the 3 major political parties; well he did work in a book shop! Anyway, we set about reading and debating them; him from a left-leaning household, me from a right-leaning household. In the end, we both concluded we were in fact Liberals by instinct and joined the party of that name together, at Peter Gibson’s house, on the 1st day of 1980.

It soon became clear to me that the Liberals were streets ahead of Labour in terms of worker rights and and worker participation in companies. I recall listening to policies outlined by the likes of Richard Wainright MP and thinking that’s what I think too. Richard saw Labour as a party tinkering around the edges of employment issues but without the courage to really empower workers in the workplace. I liked the idea of worker cooperatives, mutuals, and meaningful worker participation in companies as opposed to the ‘us and them’ approach to industrial relations offered and indeed promoted by Labour and Tories.

It’s interesting that this old political leaflet talks of a ‘A new industrial partnership that gives workers equal rights with shareholders, joint decision making, employee ownership and profit sharing’ and those ideas are still needed over 40 years later!

I met Steel once in Liverpool and saw him on many more occasions. He was a good political performer although having developed my true political opinions to one of being a Social Liberal I must admit he was actually selling a moderate centrist outlook which with hindsight (always a wonderful thing) lacked a truly radical Liberal edge.

So interesting memories were brought back to mind by a historic political leaflet.

Nottinghamshire & the Miners Strike

Being a Notts lad with previous generations of my family working at Notts pits (but having not lived there myself since 1964) and a life-long trade unionist the 1984/85 miners strike has always interested me, yet strangely I knew little of it on the ground in Notts.

I was a trade union officer in the civil service on Merseyside from around 1979 until 2013 so the work and conditions of my members was so far removed from that of coal miners to be almost of another world. Obviously, I recall the miners strike from my early days working for my union together with the political and social turmoil that flowed from it. However, considering I was born in a mining community and had relatives who were or had been miners I have little knowledge of what they felt about the strike. It’s not that my branch of the family living on Merseyside wasn’t in touch with relatives living in Notts but I really don’t recall the crisis that was the miners strike being the subject of family discussion. But, as I have recounted before, I do recall general talk about the run down of the mining industry.

Both my grandads were miners, one died from pneumoconiosis (a disease of the lungs due to inhalation of dust, characterized by inflammation, coughing, and fibrosis) and the other of lung cancer if I recall correctly. I also had two uncles who were miners. Here’s a link to my previous posting about coal mining and my family connections with it:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/12/03/deep-coal-mining-has-come-to-an-end-in-the-uk-should-we-miss-it/

So I wanted to know more about the miners strike and particularly about what went on in Nottinghamshire. Eventually I plumped for a book titled ‘Look Back In Anger – The Miners Strike in Nottinghamshire 30 Years On’ by Harry Paterson published in 2014.

Harold Wilson’s Governments closed more pits than Thatcher

The first thing which jumped off the page at me was the revelation (to me anyway) that Harold Wilson’s Governments had closed far more pits (290) than Maggie Thatcher did (160). Coal mining in the UK had clearly been in significant decline well before Thatcher came along, she just brought that decline to a swift and extremely bitter end.

TUC and Labour Party leaders didn’t throw their lot in with the miners

That the miners strike was a class based conflict i.e. the ruling elite against the working class colliers is a given but it was fight instigated by the ruling elite who were determined to break the power of 1980’s trade unions. And don’t think that the TUC and Labour Party leaders threw their lot in with the miners because they didn’t. Indeed, you could say that they stood to one side with embarrassed looks on their faces whilst making the odd supportive but meaningless comforting comments to the strikers.

Police used by state to deny freedom of movement

The role of the Police throughout the strike was at best worrying as they were being used by Government to stop the free movement of striking miners around the UK. Yes that’s right UK citizens were having their right to travel around the country curtailed by the forces of law and order. A parallel to some extent with our present somewhat bizarre Brexit situation where the leaders of the Tory and Labour Parties back a Brexit which will stop the free movement of UK citizens across the EU. Of course, there were outbreaks of terrible violence throughout the dispute and fingers have been and still are being pointed at the Police for being the cause of it as opposed to them being tasked with bringing it to an end as you might expect!

UDM was not formed until strike was over

Another interesting fact is that the UDM (Union of Democratic Mineworkers) was not formed until after the strike had ended so the strikers and non-strikers were members of the same NUM union. Both unions went into very significant decline in terms of their membership after the strike as so many pits closed over a relatively short period.

But what of Nottinghamshire where the vast majority of miners worked through the strike? Clearly there had been times before the strike where Notts miners had worked through disputes so Notts miners holding views in conflict with their national trade union was not new. There also seems to be a strand of thought that says the Notts working miners throughout the dispute felt that they would not be significantly affected by pit closures and where pits did close the miners would simply move to other (local?) pits. How wrong that proved to be.

Coal miners had a history of following work around the UK. One of my Grandads was from a family which had moved from the Sunderland to Notts probably because of plentiful mining work. Of course it was not unusual for pits to close because they had hit a ‘white wall’ i.e. the pit had been exhausted of coal. Pits had also closed over generations because the remaining coal was uneconomic to extract.

My view is that the book comes to the conclusion that there were many historical, economic and social reasons why many Notts miners did not take part in the strike and that individual miners will have held differing views, but with a common thread to them. That Notts miners were in conflict with their own union leadership most of the time seems to be a given. They seemed to value the federated nature of the NUM highly probably to a far greater extent than any other mining area in the UK.

Working Class Conservatism

Working Class Conservatism also plays into this too. My grandparents on one side were of this political belief, living in a council house but running a fruit and veg business; a shop and after my grandad came out of the pit and horse and cart round. I don’t know much about the politics of my Mum’s parents, who were from the same Notts community, but as Mum was a Chapel Liberal I’m guessing that they may well have been too.

We look at Conservatism these days as being mainly a political creed of the wealthy and probably, after Brexit, of the far right too. But back in the day and probably to some extent now (Mansfield has a Tory MP) working Class Conservatism lives on, but why it has clung on so much in the former Nottinghamshire coalfield is an interesting question. Whatever the reasons are it clearly played significantly into the Miners Strike.

As a radical Liberal of the left I struggle with class based politics as I don’t subscribe to tribalism in politics or in life generally. To that end the book I’ve just read being full of references to socialism and trade unionism being what class based politics is all about jarred with me at times. However, it is actually a great and informative read and I feel better informed having read it.

Why do we allow ourselves to be lied to?

I am sure that the vast majority of folks reading this will say I don’t want to lied to. But…….

And the but is this. We are all lied to on a regular basis by the media, politicians, businesses etc. Some lie openly but most lie in a way that some of us will not detect because the lies told feed our prejudices. So, in my case, if I hear a story slagging off Yorkshire County Cricket Club I will want to believe it as a Notts supporter. Now are you getting my drift?

But what if the lies we are told are about far more important things than a sporting allegiances? Without doubt we have been told lies [unless I am lying to you now of course] about the EU, immigration, the NHS, tuition fees, the Iraq war, taxation etc. etc. etc. in recent years.

Beware someone who tells you something that they know you are likely to want to agree with because it may well not be true, particularly if they are selling you something, trying to get your support or indeed wanting your vote.

Look at it this way newspapers play to the prejudices of their readers. They work on the basis that if we tell our readers something often enough they will believe it and repeat it as fact. Some of the more disreputable politicians do the same thing, but we know that don’t we?

I was once told by a politician that you need to find out what people are most upset about and then keep sending them messages (e-mails, leaflets etc.) that repeat those concerns and that whether those concerns are real or not does not matter.

Our problem is that with our busy lives we do not have the time, or say we don’t have the time, to find out the facts before we take a stance on things. We repeat what our family, friends and neighbours tell us without question at times and that is how falsehoods become ‘facts’ in public mind.

You could say that we are too lazy to check things out when someone we trust gives us an easy answer that fits with our prejudices, but that’s exactly how we are had by newspapers, politicians and businesses. They all put a lot of time and money into how messages are played to us so that we will react as they wish us to.

So if Auntie Mary or Uncle Fred for example is hooked by a dodgy message or ‘fact’ and then repeats it to the rest of his/her gullible family, who take it on board, then that dodgy message is spread just as the originator of it intended or at least hoped.

When polled we say that we hate lying politicians, rip-off business people and that we don’t trust what the media tells us but the fact that we are had quite often indicates that we are not actually very good at knowing when we are being lied to. This is particularly the case when we hear a ‘fact’ that we want to believe but is in fact a lie or a gross distortion of the truth.

Let’s look at few examples:-

* The NHS – we all now seem to take it as fact that we were lied to during the EU Referendum about £350m per week going into the NHS if we voted to leave the EU. Indeed, the very people who told that huge fib have openly now said it is not now going to happen! A big lie indeed.

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* Tuition Fees – This one sunk Nick Clegg (and rightly so) as he negotiated away his pledge not to increase them and indeed to scrap them. Strangely though some of us who were angry with him then voted for alternative politicians in the Labour or Conservative parties who were the instigators and promoters of Tuition Fees! So we were upset that Clegg had said one thing and done the opposite but by our actions we endorsed the policy of tuition fees. Now there’s a odd muddle for you.

* Taxation – It probably started under Thatcher but certainly Blair, Brown and Cameron built on it i.e. that we can have low taxation and great public services. And guess what, we can’t! We even had some recent nonsense from the Tories about a law to make it illegal for Parliament to increase some taxes. Their stance is built on the fact that we don’t like paying taxes so we like a message that says we don’t have to. We are also distracted by media messages that tell us that our taxes are wasted by fat-cat public sector bosses – we like that message too. That message may well be true at the margins but those that spread the message intend us to think that public money is wasted by hundreds of billions of Pounds each year. We want to believe it, so many of us do. Of course, this one is difficult for us to check out so the media and politicians who peddle that message are on to a winner.

If we keep believing what media outlets, businesses, politicians etc. tell us without checking things out, whilst trying to keep both an open mind and sceptical inquiring outlook, we will keep getting had! But are we too busy or too lazy to become better informed and less gullible?