What do the Conservatives offer the Working Classes? │Cormac Trigg
The reason behind the increase in the number of working class Conservative voters is supposedly clear; Brexit. A huge majority of working class areas voted for Leave, suggesting that these communities support the Conservatives as the party of ‘hard Brexit’. The party therefore can, and is, appealing to those of all backgrounds, with age now superceding class as the main factor indicative of voting intention. But are there other incentives the Conservatives offer that render the party attractive to working-class people?
Whether you support current immigration levels or not, it is undeniable that the process has changed the fabric of the nation and neighbourhoods irreversibly. The increase in immigration, from 90 thousand net immigrants in 1995 to 325 thousand in 2015, has brought huge cultural change to working class, traditional, pre-dominantly Christian communities. The proportion of the British population who identify as Christian has fallen by 13% between 2001 and 2011, leaving many members of these communities feeling increasingly disenfranchised by the rate of change. The Conservative party still embodies libertarian ideals, as opposed to liberal ones, representing a slower rate of social change than is pressed by other parties and thus catering more to the desires of traditional communities. There is no greater example of this than Jacob Rees-Mogg, who garners support due to his strongly held Christian principles and his embodiment of traditional British values, despite unquestionably hailing from socially elite stock, with a net worth of more than £100 million.
The UK has historically lagged behind in technical educations, losing out economically to Germany and the US due to a lack of skilled workers. Since the end of World War 2, governments have made hollow promises to place vocational education on par with academic education. No government achieved this, until the current one. T-Levels are the skills based equivalent of A-Levels, set to be implemented by 2020. They cater to specific industries, such as manufacturing and finance, allowing members of all social classes to acquire the relevant skills to access these industries. In every policy debate that I have been involved in thus far, improving technical education over academic education has been the centre of discussion, allowing non-academic students the ability to access high paying jobs regardless of their ability to access good schools or pay for tutoring. This renewed focus on British skills, industry and manufacturing comes during Brexit, where an increase in self-sufficiency and a prioritizing of a skilled British workforce are required, potentially re-igniting these industries and providing employment in communities that have previously seen degradation.
The Conservative party is also allowing for unprecedented levels of social mobility, including access to higher education. Contrary to Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that ‘fewer students from working-class communities [are] going to university’, Higher Education Student Data reports show an increase in the proportion of students attending university who had previously attended state schools, rising by 0.4% in 2012/13, during which time the price of university tuition tripled. This increase is indicative of the fact that higher tuition fees have allowed universities to provide additional places and resources, while the loan system means that students of all economic backgrounds can access these places. Last year, both Oxford and Cambridge saw increases in the number of students entering from state schools higher than the national average, meaning more working-class students than ever before have access to the very best education that Britain can offer.
Historically perhaps, the Conservatives have targeted the middle classes and business owners, but their increased focus on issues affecting the working classes is evident. Theresa May’s opening speech outside 10 Downing Street began; “if you’re from an ordinary working-class family… I know that sometimes life can be a struggle’, highlighting the renewed Conservative focus on members of the working class. Coupled with the promotion of the Northern, working class Sajid David to Home Secretary, it is increasingly evident that the contemporary Conservative party is placing the working classes at the centre of their agenda.