The Conservative leadership is just starting to tap in to the idea that the next election will be about the ‘strivers’, but Robert Halfon and Priti Patel know all too well from their Essex constituencies that what Halfon calls ‘white van conservatism’ is a key battleground. At last night’s Institute of Economic Affairs, the two MPs explained how the Conservatives needed to talk about the cost of living for the ordinary family in order to win in 2015. Halfon outlined how difficult that project was, saying:
‘I wish I was a socialist and the reason for that is if you are a socialist, you have a simple message.’
He said that even though Conservatives were interested in the same matters as the socialists in terms of tackling inequality, their message was not as easy to explain. But one area where the government isn’t helping itself in its appeal to strivers is by ‘bashing the public sector’, Halfon said. Because 30 per cent of union members vote Conservative, he explained, the party needed to stop viewing the unions as an automatic enemy. This will come as a great disappointment to some ministers who take some delight in ‘engaging’ with the unions, and is also curiously timed: Francis Maude is speaking to conference this afternoon, and is expected to give further details about his plan to crack down on trade union ‘pilgrims’ – civil servants who also work as trade union officials.