This week the Conservative Party quietly abandoned the promises made by Theresa May to the British people on the steps of Downing Street when becoming Prime Minister.
As a then-new First Lord of the Treasury, May vowed to her fellow citizens that she would right the ‘burning injustices’ that confronted society’s worst-off and prevented them from meeting their fullest potential. The United Kingdom would, she said, ‘be a country that works for everyone’ and made reference to the disadvantages facing minorities in areas like the justice system.
The speech had One Nation Tories like me on the edge of their seats, applauding what sounded like a new direction after years of austerity under David Cameron, and decades of liberal economic attitudes in the Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher’s leadership.
Unfortunately, like many promises of the May Ministry, nothing has changed. Two years on from that address, polling from the Conservative Party show that voters place more confidence in Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party to actually solve the social issues that hamstring Britain.
As a result, according to the Times, the party are no longer mentioning those ‘burning injustices’ as doing so will only increase support for Jeremy Corbyn. The British people simply do not trust Theresa May to tackle the issues highlighted on her first day. Party insiders say the issues are still important to May, but she lacks confidence in her party to force them through, while weighed down by the ouroboros of Brexit looming over the country.
But while the chaos of Brexit is only temporary, there are no signs that social injustice and inequality is going anywhere. More than 14 million of Theresa May’s fellow citizens are now living in poverty, with numbers rising across all age groups according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
A chronic starvation of public services has left society’s most vulnerable with nowhere to turn, while an austerity minded Home Office has watched a downward trending murder and violent crime rate rise towards levels last seen decades ago. Outside of London, regions stagnate and their infrastructure crumbles. Promised investment has failed to appear. Left behind along the way as well is the Armed Forces, reduced to a deprivation of manpower and resources not seen in Britain for centuries.
No real Tory can watch these things happen and be happy, yet members of the Cabinet trumpet the fact the Treasury will finally be in surplus to the joy of the party’s Thatcherites. They fail to recognise that the primary purpose of the government is not to make money but secure the safety of the state.
It is not too late for May to at least attempt to undo the decisions that caused this. Every Conservative should hope that she reverses the disastrous changes made to the welfare system by Iain Duncan-Smith that has turned an already struggling class into a precariat. They should pray that the Prime Minister’s promises to build the millions of houses Britain needs are not as hollow as those from 2016.
Before recent decades, Tory governments never sought to penalise the poorest for being poor but to instead take responsibility until those people could fend for themselves. My favourite illustration of this is a Conservative Party poster from the 1929 General Election. ‘The Conservatives protect YOU,’ it reads, ‘by Child Welfare, Maternity Welfare, Better Health Insurance, More Employment, More and Better Houses …. Vote Conservative.’ It is hard now to imagine a party trying less to protect people than the Conservative Party in its current form.
Thankfully there is hope on the horizon. A promisingly increasing proportion of members to the party are young One Nation Tories championing the views of statesmen like Disraeli and Macmillan. The Tory Reform Group has seen newer MPs such as Bim Afolami, Johnny Mercer and Tom Tugendhat join their ranks, meanwhile in the party’s youth wings, students tell me they are proud to admit being One Nation Tories, a moniker that in days past would have seen them pilloried and decried as ‘wets’.
These compassionate Conservatives must take up a difficult mantle. They must try to convince the British public that they can trust a party which has betrayed them. With the right policies, this can be done. What anyone hoping to lead the country cannot do, however, is follow Theresa May by making promises that they have no intention of keeping.