Comment: The Conservatives must deliver on their promise of reducing inequality

As the Conservatives arrived in Manchester for their annual conference, protesters responded by ‘laying siege’ to the event so the Tories knew they ‘were not welcome in the city’.

On Sunday, as 60,000 marched and conferences delegates mingled in the Midland Hotel behind 12ft metal fences and private security, the siege metaphor could hardly have seemed less apt.

Here were the rulers of Britain safe behind fortifications, and there were the people with their torches and their pitchforks at the gate.

But Manchester with its all-Labour council is not indicative of Britain’s voters.

Instead, it was a David Cameron emboldened by the first Conservative majority Government in 18-years, who delivered a final-day conference speech yesterday.

A Prime Minister with a mandate for austerity and cuts, a PM who protesters had called a ‘Tory scum’ that called the shots.

Not simply delivering a vision of Britain for the remainder of this government’s term, but wrapping the ideologies of conservatism in language of common sense.

Setting the platform for a Conservative majority that can ‘go on and on’.

When David Cameron said in his speech ‘you can’t have true opportunity without real equality’, the statement was clear.

He wanted to claim ground traditionally considered as the property of the left for the Conservatives.

As Tony Blair seized the weaknesses of Major’s government to make New Labour the party of business, Cameron wishes to use Labour’s internal-war, triggered by Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader, as an opportunity for the ‘nasty party’ to become the party of ‘compassion’ and ‘opportunity’.

It is easy to be cynical about this aspiration. Both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister are from the same private-school, Oxford background.

How can men who have never known struggle understand inequality in anything but an academic sense? Why do men who have benefited from Britain’s glass ceiling want to argue for its removal?

So too, the PM’s lament of how ‘Britain has the lowest social mobility in the developed world’, raises the question of why – if his is the party of opportunity – this remains true after five years of Conservative-led rule.

Speaking at conference, George Osborne confirmed that the rate of cuts will not be slowed, that the pre-election pledge to run a surplus by 2020 remains a priority.

It is clear that if the Tories are to make themselves the party of social justice, their economic policies mean they will have to find solutions beyond state-redistribution.

Osborne’s first Conservative-majority budget saw the announcement of a higher minimum wage, but £12 billion of cuts to welfare.

Protesters who gathered outside the Midland Hotel during David Cameron’s speech weren’t the ‘crusties friends with nose-rings’ Boris Johnson laughed-off during his speech – they were disability activists.

Disabled people worried about being used as ‘soft targets’ for welfare cuts, and about cuts to support that allows disabled people to get into work.

Richard Currie, one of the protesters, said the government has ‘undermined’ disabled people’s ‘right to live independently’ and ‘right to a job’.

The Conservatives believe the conference marks the beginning of their ownership of the centre-ground of British politics. 

But the question remains as to why the self-appointed party of working people would leave working families on average £2,000 worse as a result of their tax-credit cuts. 

As cuts deepen, more and more will feel their impact, and so the Conservatives risk further anger and further division. 

If the Conservative Party is serious in their rhetoric on tackling poverty and inequality, then policy answers must be forthcoming.

Otherwise the ‘nasty party’ tag will prove impossible to shake.

Image courtesy of Guillame Paumier, with thanks.

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