Tuesday, 19 March 2013

So how come you're a conservative?

Some people struggle to believe that a conservative can emerge from the Labour heartland of South Wales.

Like many residents of Barnet, I was born outside the Borough.  I grew up in 'Kinnock country' (he was my MP) and it's true that many people in the valleys vote Labour.  Mind you, that trend is decreasing at a significant pace.

As a former Welsh minister once said, we are a product of our genes and experiences.  Conservatism is in my blood - my grandfather was a rare breed; a conservative miner who was proud of the 'working class' label as he believed it signified his hard work.  He did a shift down the mine followed by a shift as a bus conductor because he wanted to give his family the best start in life.  He certainly did not think wealthy neighbours should be taxed more so he could receive ‘tax credits’ or that the best way to increase pay was to go on strike.  His aspiration drove his work ethic and it filtered down the generations; I was also a rare breed amongst my friends having three paper rounds although that can’t be compared to my grandfather’s sheer hard graft.

So it's in my blood but, growing up in a Labour area, my experiences suffocated any chance of Labour capturing my support.  I saw for myself what old Labour was really like.  I saw Labour councillors getting the best council houses yet they had campaigned to stop their aspiring neighbours becoming home owners under Thatcher’s right to buy.  Cliques of Labour councillors who had council staff pass by them public booking requests for the bowls pavilion so they would have first choice.  I saw the childish behaviour of some former miners towards those who, many years earlier, broke the picket lines because their children were hungry and their homes were being repossessed.  The right to strike meant more than the right to work.  No resentment against Scargill though, who, most reasonable people now accept, led the miners to certain and swifter defeat with his ill-judged tactics.  Those were the examples of à la carte socialism I saw and heard when growing up and they repulsed me.   
The Labour Party and its supporters who wanted to hold the country and government over a barrel for higher pay or unfair job protection, who wanted never ending welfare, who didn’t want others to own their home, who thought grammar schools were elitist and held onto outdated socialist principles – they all helped the Conservatives recruit me and many like me. 

My first contact with the Conservative Party was made when, as head boy of my school in 1997, I stood as the Conservative candidate in a mock election.  Nobody wanted to represent the Conservatives!  My history teacher light heartedly asked if I would fill the vacancy and provide some competition to the rest of the younger candidates from the year below (they had no exams that year).  At that point in my life I hadn’t seriously given any thought as to which party I identified with but it sounded like fun.

As I read the Conservative manifesto to help write my speech, I found myself agreeing with the narrative and those policies I could understand.  My wider research established the mess of the 70s and the leaps Britain made under 18 years of Conservative government.  The economy was strong but stronger still was the irrelevance of record and the focus on individual scandals and personalities, the freshness of Blair and the very fact the ‘Tories had ruled for 18 years’.  Apparently it was time for change and things could only get better.

Fashionable at the time was the concept that all wrongdoings, particularly crime and social inequity, stemmed from ‘under investment’ in public services.  I was dubious about that then and 13 years on, following Labour’s spending bonanza, the same problems existed with many getting worse. 

Growing up in an area of predominantly low income I saw families with the same start in life achieve very different outcomes.  I thought it was an insult to the poor to suggest their income bracket meant they were more likely to become criminal and dysfunctional.  Many people in the valleys prove that much of it is down to attitude, choice and perseverance.

For me, the Conservatives stand for aspiration, responsibility, small government and fairness.  Labour’s language attempts to promote such ideals however their policies actually end up creating unfairness, large government, dependency on the state, a false sense of entitlement and even resentment.  I could see that aged 16 and nothing has persuaded me otherwise since. 

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