Last night I got an email asking me why I’m a Conservative. I got a series of questions, based around the stereotypes of the party.
“Are you English?”
Nope, I replied. I was born and grew up in Northern Ireland. Same for my parents.
“Are you rich?”
Nope. Verifiably, I am not even well off.
“Are you really right wing?”
No, though I am firmly to the right of centre on economic issues.
“You religious? They say the Church of England is the Conservative Party at prayer.”
Nope. I’m an atheist.
Then she says “You don’t sound like you fit in that party at all”.
Their confusion, not mine
It struck me after the conversation that there really is a gap in people’s understanding about what the party represents and why people join it. I am aware that the reasons for being a member are wide and varied; some do join it because they’re very right of centre, some people join it because it validates an English identity, some because they’re filthy rich and they reckon we’ll be nicer on tax. I believe all of those things are legitimate, as they go. But they’re not the reason I joined the Conservative Party. This post is an effort to compile a few of the policy positions which I like a lot, and the sense in which, psychologically and intellectually, the party appeals to me. It isn’t about trying to convert anyone.
Tax is the price we pay for the government to sort out problems, pay for the important bits like health, social welfare, education and defence and leave us the hell alone.
I believe that our lives should be, by and large, free from government intervention. The man and woman in Whitehall does not know how to live our lives for us. The decisions we take should be respected by government, so long as the actions do not actively and directly impinge on the rights and entitlements of others. For this reason, government should be small and the person should be large. Parents should be powerful, people should be free to marry whomever they choose. The principle should be that the government does not involve itself in our lives unless we really need it to, ask it to, or it has to arrest us. Tax is the price we pay for the government to sort out problems, pay for the important bits like health, social welfare, education and defence and leave us the hell alone.
I’m a product of a Grammar school system in Northern Ireland and a UK University. I didn’t do too badly, and I benefited from the opportunities I had in Belfast. Education is important, and it’s vital that every child in the UK gets access to an engaging, positive education experience, which helps them, nurtures their ability and helps children of varied abilities access the best tailored school.
Conservatives don’t plan any more to build Grammar Schools in every town; instead, we want to build better schools within the state system and make it easier for communities to form new schools. Encouraging smaller and more diverse schools should help prevent the ridiculous overcrowding of classes we’ve seen to date.
I believe in education free at the point of delivery to the student. Students should be free to study, to reach their potential, and should not be saddled with debt to stress them when they should be studying. I’m a former full-time elected national executive member of the National Union of Students; the increased fees structure brought in by Labour has frightened students. Conservatives know that if students are to be treated as customers (which is not at all desirable, really) then they should expect the level of customer care commensurate with the cost.
Graduates make enormous contributions to the life of our nation, and their contribution to the exchequer is far higher per capita on average than the contribution of non-graduates. We should stop treating them as easy revenue targets, and protect and recognise their interests.
I’m happy to say that the current conservative policy is greatly in accord with my own values on education.
We buggered up our hospitals with targets. We allowed people in suits to tell people in uniforms how to do their jobs, without any training or logical basis for the changes. We took the things that were important, like caring for scared, ill people, and turned them into abstract ideas to be battled against a clock. We said hospitals should be cleaner (expensive), then we told health authorities to manage their own budget, so they outsourced cleaning to companies who cared about the bottom line rather than clean hospitals. We set the wrong targets, and we need to change that. I trust Conservatives to do that.
Conservatives will stop the NHS cuts to maternity and A&E, will support the funding needs of the NHS and will put the cleaning of hospitals in the hands of people who know the clinical risks of uncleanliness. We’ll regulate hospitals on their effectiveness at fighting illness. Most importantly, we need to earn the trust of the nurses, specialists, porters and doctors who make up the workforce of the NHS.
The men and women in uniform who defend our nation and who put their lives in danger, doing jobs in the armed forces, are amazing people. They ask for very little, they need not much more. We ask them to go into wars ill-equipped and we order them into battle, sometimes needlessly, and when they get back to the UK, far too often they’re mistreated with poor quality accommodation, inadequate pensions and public abuse. We need to rebalance the armed forces in favour of the armed forces personnel; we should provide good quality accommodation and the best equipment we can for the theatres of operations.
Some people get caught up in the minutiae of questions around Defence, trying to call me out on specific military operations. I think the Falklands was a tragic waste of human life, made inevitable by Galtieri’s stupid decision. I think Thatcher did the right thing. I can chat to you about it if you like. Why not contact me through the comment system at the bottom of the page, and I promise to publish your comments.
I know this isn’t exactly comprehensive. I’m going to be working on this section over the next week or two. I hope you’ll stop by again to argue, or to let me know why you agree.