22 March 2018

Labour’s ‘class war’ rhetoric does nothing to aid social mobility

By Rachel Maclean

I don’t come from a deprived background, I didn’t have a difficult childhood, and I’m well aware that I had a comfortable, if not flashy, upbringing while attending my West Midlands state comprehensive school. Both my parents were working professionals, and because they were the first in their respective families to go to university, I was brought up understanding values of working hard at school, and aspiring to a good career of my own. I was one of only two kids from my state sixth form to make it to Oxford University, and have worked ever since, mostly running my own business. While I feel very fortunate that I’ve not been afflicted by any devastating personal tragedies, and had advantages that many did not, I also know that I’ve worked extremely hard for everything I have now, and nothing was handed to me on a plate.

So why does this matter?

I’m not by any stretch of the imagination “working class”. And nor, by that definition, is Jeremy Corbyn or the vast majority of his fellow Labour MPs. They number just as many private school, degree educated lawyers as we do. But this doesn’t stop them from stereotyping the Conservatives, who have always been a party first and foremost about equality of opportunity, as morally inferior.

And it is increasingly being used as a line of attack against those of us on the Right who dare to speak out on issues of welfare, inequality and social justice.

The implication is that because I and some of my fellow MPs are not from a certain type of background we cannot understand or empathise with our local communities. That because we do not share various characteristics with those who are disadvantaged, we cannot speak up or fight for them. That we can’t be on their side, or make policy decisions in their best interest. In short, we aren’t “working class”.

This line of argument, if taken to its logical extreme, would mean that I could not empathise with any constituent who was not from an identical background to me. It would mean MPs only able to work for a narrow range of individuals. I completely reject this; week in, week out, I hold my surgeries open to everyone in my constituency. Through these and my regular work I interact with an enormous variety of people from all backgrounds, and all are treated equally.

This insidious accusation has no basis in fact, either. Many of my fellow Conservative MPs are through and through working class on any definition, and as I know from my own local association and others all over the country, our party attracts just as many from working-class backgrounds, if not more, than any other.

But this ugly class war is now raging in Labour’s battle cry – its “for the many not the few” rhetoric – and demonises those “few” who are not “with” them. Who are those few? Who decides? And what if someone, by their life’s journey of social mobility, a laudable aim that we all say we want, becomes one of the “rich” or the “few”? All of a sudden that individual crosses a line and will find the full attack squadrons of today’s Labour party, and its unpleasant alter-ego Momentum, ranged against them. There is nothing wrong with being working class, or from any class. But why should we erect barriers to people who wish to move away from the class they were born into and aim for something else, whether through education or work?

Those of us on the Right, and in the Conservatives, have a simple aim. To make everyone better off – and yes, that means not just in cash terms, but in social, well-being and cultural terms also – and enable everyone to fulfil their potential. We are truly “needs blind”. We understand a simple truth. Which is that life can never be completely and utterly fair. People have the bad luck to be born into deprivation or a difficult family environment, through no fault of their own. People can also be born into wealth or privilege, through no fault of their own.

Our message is we don’t care where you have come from, but we want a society and a country that works for you. That enables you to make the most of your talent and potential, if you are prepared to work hard. We don’t demonise success, or put labels on people according to their social class. We don’t attack people who have worked hard and done well out of life, all we ask is that they pay their fair share of tax to contribute to helping those less fortunate.

The raft of policy initiatives introduced under the Conservative and Conservative-led governments demonstrate that this is more than just empty rhetoric. The rich are paying much more in tax than under Labour, we’re collecting more from tax avoidance and evasion, we’ve clamped down on multitudes of loopholes, and income inequality is at its lowest in 30 years.

In the education system, the greatest lever of social mobility in the country, we have more children in good or outstanding schools, meaning, that wherever a child goes to school, they will benefit from the same quality of education and have the same tools to make the most of their talent and potential. In our universities, more students than ever from deprived backgrounds are able to study. And the list goes on. Fewer children growing up in workless households. More people than ever before in work, which is the best route out of poverty known to man. A welfare system based on universal credit that incentivises work instead of trapping people in poverty. More women on boards. And more spending on critical public services, targeting support at those who need it most to cope with challenges, including more funds for mental health provision.

All policies delivered by a party that doesn’t have the slightest interest in class war, or doing down a group of people different from them. All policies that aim to help everyone in our country, from whatever class they were born into, make the most of their God-given potential.

I’m proud to be supporting and advocating these policies, and I believe we should fight harder and louder than ever for them, against those who seek to wage class war against us.

Because while this class war might make the keyboard warriors feel great about themselves in their anger and outrage-fuelled bubble, it does nothing to help those people who genuinely are underprivileged and genuinely do need society’s help. It’s only the policies based on equality of opportunity of the sensible, moderate, open and progressive Right that can do this.

Rachel Maclean is MP for Redditch.