Look, what she said isn’t quite my cup of tea but, as a Tory MP, I can’t help but admire Ms Rayner. She is a fighter, waking up every morning, working out how she is going to try and remove the Conservatives from power.
Her recent interviews spoke of her story and motivation in a language many politicians fail to reach, so consumed are they by the intricacies of the Westminster village.
The public are best placed to judge whether Angela’s remarks went too far but there is an important lesson to take away – that we Conservatives must show the same strength of spirit.
Labour may still be licking their wounds from a big electoral loss but the party hasn’t retreated Rip-van Winkle-like into the Catskill Mountains, not to be seen for 20 years.
Far from it. Even Keir Starmer has managed to bring in some party reforms to weaken the left. Moreover, in recent weeks, Labour has notably shifted its approach from chatter during Islington dinner parties to the kitchen tables of working people, placing a new emphasis on the importance of the affordability of the cost of living.
By now, readers of The Yorkshire Post may be wondering why a Conservative MP has devoted the first part of this essay to praising an approach by the Labour Party. It is certainly not because I am in agreement.
I have been a Conservative from the age of 14 and remain steeped in Tory values. Like Angela Rayner, I regard belonging to my party as being a member of a family – comforting but occasionally dysfunctional.
I write these things because I want my party to show the same strength of spirit as Ms Rayner, instead of reciting the latest lines from Whitehall.
Of course, it is sometimes harder for Tories to do this than Labour. This is because Labour has a unique selling point. Their core socialist message is about helping the underdog through higher spending, something readily understood on the doorsteps – and an immediate voter win because it implies a moral foundation. In contrast, Conservatism is thought to be about fiscal responsibility, balancing the budget and lowering taxation, which is harder to explain.
But underneath all that is a simple Conservative truth. Most of our countrymen and women need and deserve a better standard of living – but they want something else too: welfare services that work.
So they know that if their family falls ill they will be looked after by the NHS; that their grandparents will be able to afford their winter fuel bills; that when they walk home from the bus or train station they will be free from anti-social behaviour or worse.
They want to feel secure in the knowledge that they have a real chance to live in quality housing – whether it is social housing or through the right-to- buy scheme. Parents want to ensure their children attend the school of their choice, for their children to receive the same high standards of education no matter where they live, be able to access free school meals should they be required and that their son or daughter will be able to complete a quality apprenticeship or go to university without facing mountains of debt on their graduation.
Perhaps most importantly, people are compassionate towards others, often involved in a range of community groups such as the scouts or neighbourhood organisations.
They believe the welfare state should incentivise work and stop dependency but that it must be truly compassionate to the most vulnerable, especially the disabled and the elderly.
If we know this to be the case, Conservatives must show people that it is the party of the ladder of opportunity. I believe in the power of symbols. I believe in simple messaging.
It is not so hard for Tories to explain what we are about. That if you are on lower income, we give you the ladder to get you the skills, the education, the jobs, security and prosperity that you need.
But this is not just a ladder by itself, it’s a ladder that is grafted by Government with the rungs created by Government policies and interventions. It is a ladder that the people are brought to by Government.
It’s a ladder that has a social ambulance, always there at the bottom, ready to help if people fall off. It’s a ladder that has hands holding it steady to support people every step of the way.
In my mind, this ladder of opportunity is all about Conservatives being the practical Workers Party. A Workers Party that acts as a real modern workers’ trade union movement for the British people.
This can be achieved in five steps. First by ensuring people have a good education and skills to get the jobs they need and want. That means a long-term education plan, a secure funding settlement and a guarantee of an apprenticeship to every young person who wants one.
The second is about improving workers’ wages through more tax cuts for the lower paid and raising the Living Wage. The third step is about workers’ rights, prioritising ending the exploitation of the gig economy as a means of ensuring job security.
The fourth is about workers’ welfare – improving Universal Credit to get rid of the poverty trap by changing the taper rate. And the final step is about workers’ services. Not just the NHS but housing. Ensuring that affordable housing does what it says on the tin.
The Tory conference could be a launchpad for a renewed practical workers’ Conservatism: one that explains what Conservatism is for and sets out how the Prime Minister will elevate levelling-up policies that work for the people. We must be the party that builds the ladder of opportunity. All of us as Conservatives have a duty to get on the doorsteps with that message.
* Robert Halfon is chair of Parliament’s Education Committee and a Tory MP. He is writing in a personal capacity.
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