1 September 2017

The policies the Tories need to defeat the Corbyn cult


Why would Conservatives want to ape Momentum? The “grassroots” Labour movement responds to any political question with “more power for Corbyn, and more of your money”, which it couples with social gatherings (real and virtual) that remind me of the Planet People in 1970s Quatermass. The Planet People threw over the old social order to build a better life but were, of course, eventually harvested for food by the aliens whose revolution they worshipped. Insert your own Momentum analogy here.

But I’d be suspicious of Momentum even without its 1970s aliens-will-save-us vibe. Any cultish outfit with a messianic fervour to its pack-like activities — Glastonbury, The News Quiz, football crowds — strikes me as the opposite of Conservative. One of the eternal Tory duties is never to suspend critical faculties for the sake of easy answers and the anaesthetising comfort of in-group membership. In other words, if Tories don’t say “We can’t go on like this”, even while everyone else is singing “yeah, yeah, yeah”, then who will?

“Activate”, the recently launched Conservative equivalent of Momentum, is a response to the terrified belief — which I share — that a socialist apocalypse is near-inevitable. If you can’t beat ‘em, impersonate ‘em, sort of thing. I “get” the impulse: only 14 per cent of 18-24 year olds will vote Conservative, while another 60 per cent believe that Tories should be shot on sight.

I made that last statistic up — it’s not like we’re Venezuela, ha! ha! Not yet anyway — but remember that the next Labour government will put people like Laura Pidcock, the Labour MP who refuses to mix with Conservatives because they are “the enemy”, in positions of power. Diversity, almost a religion for people such as dear Laura, doesn’t extend — must not be extended — to political belief. Imagine what Laura would do with power: she’ll be doing it to you, after all.

Is it possible for the Conservatives to re-connect with young voters? Here are four ideas for fending off Corbyn, not all of which are intuitively Tory.

1. Build more houses. Everyone has been saying this for years, but house building on a scale sufficient to crack open the market is hard to achieve without upsetting the core Tory vote. I’m not moaning at the government about this: Keith and I live next to woodland and our home’s value is part of our retirement plan. Nevertheless, to enter the next election campaign without a sharp increase in home ownership among the 20-30 age cohort should be unthinkable.

2. Shut up about inheritance tax, other than to disavow any intention to lower it. I share the reflexive Conservative distaste for inheritance tax, but as Andrew Willshire pointed out recently, the cascade of unearned wealth through some British families entrenches the injustice of social immobility. In other words, for every Made In Chelsea alabaster-skinned tosser who’d celebrate a reduction in inheritance tax, there’s a working-class child of exceptional intellect whose path up the social ladder is made that much more of a stretch. There’s a reason rich people want to leave enough money for their children to send their own offspring to Eton, but it’s not really one that Tories should celebrate. A commitment that median income families won’t be savaged — but no such commitment to Chelsea-rich squillionaires — is what’s needed.

3. Reform capitalism. Not the “Burn them! Burn them all!” frenzied left-wing kind of reform. But at the start of her premiership Mrs May had good instincts about what is wrong with the system with which she should reconnect. Just because we become more right-wing with age doesn’t mean that we look at the salary packages of our CEOs with pleasure, or think it’s the deserved outcome of a functioning market. It’s a cartel, one middle-aged salary-slaves wearily accept rather than celebrate, and to chip away at it — with transparency over packages, and published wage differentials within Mega-Corps, and, yes, worker representation on boards — would not signal the end of capitalism. It might just help save it.

4. Abolish 70 per cent of universities. Why do you think Corbyn is so close to being PM? Why do you think the Remainers keep quoting the statistics about the correlation between propensity to support Brexit and the lack of a university degree? Tories view university with nostalgia, imagining its hasn’t altered since our own 20th century graduations. But in too many places “university” is just a subsidised factory in which pseudo-academics in various invented disciplines (“queer studies” etc) propagate Corbynite socialism into the receptive minds of young people — young people whom we encourage into debt so that they may avail themselves of this service, but whom we ignore when they complain that the jobs market for their unrigorous, class-inflated degree appears somewhat dry. Tories should reform these sausage factories for socialism, saving the actual world-class institutions Britain does still possess to provide their rigorous and academic education for the relative few who can benefit from it.

Imagine the last election re-run but with millions fewer graduates displaced by millions more young people who left school straight into apprenticeship (i.e. in-work) technical training or vocation-based work courses. Quite.

Now imagine the next election with nothing achieved on home ownership, which remains an impossible dream for anyone under 40. No reforms to capitalism have been enacted; a “business-friendly” Tory party gives the impression that, sadly, wage-slavery is the price you pay for “freedom” (try not to notice the fat cats creaming themselves). And then the party unveils its campaign slogan: “Let’s cut inheritance tax.”

Would such a campaign “cut through” with young people? Suddenly the Planet People — with their belief that the aliens will save us, not eat us — don’t seem quite so incredible. Or, indeed, credulous.

Graeme Archer is a political commentator and statistician