The Tories as the Workers’ party? Not as ridiculous as it sounds

The interests of the Tory party are very often diametrically opposed to those of most workers. However it would be a mistake to be complacent.

It is being reported that Tory party chairman Grant Shapps will stand alongside former PM Sir John Major and announce that the Tories are rebranding themselves as the party of the proletariat.

Speaking at the new Conservative campaign headquarters, Shapps will say: “The Conservatives are the Workers’ party and we are on your side.”

The instinctive thing to do at this point is laugh. The Tories have introduced a whole host of anti-worker policies since they came to office in 2010, including:

  • employment tribunal fees;
  • tried to introduce no fault dismissal legislation only for it to be blocked by Vince Cable;
  • failed to implement the Temporary Agency Workers Directive properly;
  • brought in a ‘shares for rights’ scheme, which allows workers to give up basic employment rights in exchange for company shares;
  • reduced the amount of time employers need to consult on collective redundancies from 90 days to 45 days;
  • removed legal aid for all employment cases except discrimination;

Since when have the Tories been interested in ‘the workers’?

From an economic standpoint, this is a fair question to ask. But focusing only on economics paints a rather distorted picture; for on a number of other issues there is scope for the Tory party to naturally pick up working class votes.

The main areas where this is apparent are welfare and immigration.

While we on the left are keen (rightly, in my view) to defend the benefits of immigration, for the working class migration is all too often interpreted as meaning stiffer competition for wages and the loss of the sense of community in the places where one grew up. As the authors of the 2012 British Social Attitudes survey put it:

“[In recent years] economically comfortable and culturally more cosmopolitan groups show little change in their assessments of economic impacts [of immigration], but economically and socially insecure groups have become dramatically more hostile.”

This is reflected in the UKIP vote. The average UKIP voter is more likely to have finished education at 16 or under than voters of the three main parties and is less likely to be university-educated or have an income over £40,000.

Labour’s core voters are also the most enthusiastic proponents of welfare reform – almost half believe that if benefits are cut it will help people stand on their own two feet.

Welfare and immigration – natural Tory territory. What’s perhaps preventing the Tories from picking up more working class votes is the fact that people tend to vote on economic issues rather than cultural ones. But there is no guarantee that things will stay this way.

In the United States it is the Republican party which picks up a majority of white working class support, while the Democrats are increasingly considered the party of ethnic minorities and wealthy city liberals. There is no shame in that of course, but it’s a welcome reminder that the left should not take working class voters for granted.

The interests of the Tory party are very often diametrically opposed to those of most workers. Yet it would be a mistake to be complacent. Rightly or wrongly, the Tories are far more in tune with the working class than we are some of the really big issues.

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12 Responses to “The Tories as the Workers’ party? Not as ridiculous as it sounds”

  1. swatnan

    You may have heard the expression ‘ to build on giants shoulders’ ….
    basically it means that its almost nigh impossible to repeal previous legislation what came before. Instead, you amend, or add to what came before. Even Thatcher couldn’t get rid of the NHS or Comprehensives or the Miners, completely. Don’t forget the Print Unions, Car Unions and other Unions, were running amok at the time and needed a bit of regulation and control. The nature of Industry and employment and work was changing, worldwide, and we had to adapt to the changes in order to survive in a global market..

  2. blarg1987

    It is true reform was needed, however the policy of covering the garden in petrol, setting it a light and saying whatever grows back will be the model of industry we will have because it requires little or no state assistance, was in my view a policy to far. The garden needed trimming, shrubs overgrown needed cutting back, the grass cut, and specilist plants needed a little bit more care to thrive.

    Labour could have put the brakes and repealed old pieces of legislation, such as take back the rail franchises as thy expired, not sell off our nucelar or parts of our defence industry, removed market ideas in state provision and not used PFI.

    I think slowly we are admitting this as political parties may go back to their roots, (as the older vote may force them to) the Conservative party was origionally a party of small buisnesses and family values, this is a model part of the party is returning to, as the ideology of cheapest price and marketisation at any cost is is comming home to bite them in the ass (although no one will offically admit they are wrong).

  3. Ostercy

    The Tories have realised, like Ukip, that there are angry “workers” out there who might have once voted for Labour, but who loathe and despise Blair and New Labour.

  4. robertcp

    The Conservative would not have won a single election during the twentieth century if a substantial minority of the working class, including many of my relatives, had not voted for it. Other working class people voted Labour despite their illiberal views on issues such as immigration and welfare.

  5. Richard Dunstan

    Interesting thoughts, James. And Labour would be in a stronger position to counter this latest Tory wheeze if we could actually commit to reversing some of the attacks on worker’s rights and access to justice that you highlight at the beginning of your piece. ET fees is the most glaring example: they have decimated access to justice, but it would ‘cost’ considerably less than £10m to scrap the fees entirely, and even less again to replace them with a modest, flat-rate fee of say £50. So why are shadow ministers so silent on the issue?

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