The Conservative Party conference has opened the floodgates to a torrent of populist policies aimed firmly at what Theresa May calls ‘ordinary working-class people’. The NHS is to become self-sufficient in British doctors. British firms will come under increasing pressure to hire British workers. Our military will ‘opt out’ of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The hard-working people of Britain, says Theresa May, will no longer be ignored by ‘the powerful and the privileged’. And she rails against those who see their patriotism as ‘distasteful’ and call their fears about immigration ‘parochial’.
The message is clear: If you’re working hard to make ends meet, the Tories are the party for you.
I have to admit that it’s a clever strategy. This pro-British, anti-foreigner approach appeals to the many people who feel that previous governments have left them behind, while also being a sort of political catnip to Tory stalwarts. And it cleverly taps into the popular sentiment underlying the Brexit vote, without needing to refer explicitly to the shambles that is the Government’s Brexit policy.
The Prime Minister is seeking to unify the two sides of the traditional class divide, bringing blue blood and blue collar together in a populist crusade.
The voice of reason is left sandwiched in the middle.
The Conservatives are setting us up so that anything we say in criticism of their xenophobic agenda can be derided as the unpatriotic protestations of a ‘liberal elite’. They will say that we don’t understand the lot of the ‘ordinary working-class’ voter. And that we don’t care.
The Government is playing cynically on the fears of the ordinary people about whom it claims to care so much. It is creating a society where criticism isn’t tolerated. Where to question the Tory orthodoxy is tantamount to treason.
And they call it the ‘new centre ground’.
But this is not the centre ground. It is a path that leads but one way: to the right. It is a path not to openness and tolerance, but to prejudice and fear. And is it the refuge of those who would manipulate us to achieve their own ends.
This article was first published in Liberal Democrat Voice.