Monday, 1 January 2007

Who really represents the working class

Having posted a couple of criticisms of fellow bloggars’ postings recently (hating the sin and not the sinner, I hasten to add!), it is a pleasure to be able to cite an excellent entry by Tristan about David Cameron’s recently announced aspiration to make the Conservatives the party of the working class.

Much as we may want to ridicule this, Tristan is right to note that for a long time the Tories appealed to the naturally conservative tendency within a big proportion of the population, while Labour’s intellectually-driven egalitarianism only appealed to the working class when it was combined with cynical class-war populism.

Where I would question Tristan (there’s no point in just agreeing meekly with him, after all!) is where he writes that “Neither party could ever truly claim to be the party of the working class, and no party can today…” This overlooks the very interventionist sentiment that suffuses much of the working class (though if his point is that interventionism isn’t a class issue I would have to agree, for the middle classes seem equally convinced in the merits of paternalism).

One thing that Margaret Thatcher did brilliantly (better than we ever did, sadly) was to convince large swathes of the population that it was in their interests to vote for a party that espoused economically liberal doctrines. For the past decade the majority of voters in the UK have been of the opinion that their interests are best served by paternal government – so much so that the Conservatives have now jettisoned their economically liberal beliefs and are returning to the Conservative-Interventionist position that they occupied in the third quarter of the twentieth century.

My first reaction to this is to shake my head sadly as these auxiliaries abandon their association with liberty as soon is it no longer advances their real aims. But in fact there is an opportunity here, if we have the courage to seize it. I believe that David Cameron is making a mistake in shifting his party back towards the interventionist axis just as people are beginning to tire of Brown’s “nanny state.

With less and less discernable policy-space between the Conservatives and New Labour, the Liberal Democrats alone can argue the case for a society based on individual autonomy and limited government. Rather than appealing to any one class, we should appeal to that part of every voter that recognises that they are best placed to make decisions about their own lives.

I am frankly tired of being associated with the Conservatives just because they have on occasion shared with us an opposition to socialism. Too often when we champion the market or question state monopolies we are accused of being Thatcherites. The fact that the Tories arrogated our beliefs in a free economy has created a daft situation in which economic liberalism is seen as Conservative philosophy while the Liberal Democrats are left with only the social aspects of liberty. This perception is widespread in the media and even some within our own party are afraid of liberal economics because of its association with the old enemy.

So let David Cameron try to win the working class by stripping them of autonomy and expropriating their assets. Let us empower them and offer them freedom. It may seem at present that intervention and the large state dominates, but the tide will turn. The voters, be they the over-taxed middle class or working class playthings of bureaucracy, want freedom.

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