I was interested in Labour MP Chris Bryant’s blog piece in the Independent today. Challenged by an 11 year old to explain the difference between the Tories and Labour he came up with the following at short notice:
Labour wanted everyone to have a decent chance in life, no matter what their background, while the Tories thought everyone should stand on their own two feet.
His comments betray his party’s belief that it has a monopoly of compassion and fellow feeling. There is no Tory who couldn’t sign up to wanting “everyone to have a decent chance in life, no matter what their background”. This equality of opportunity argument is mainstream conservatism. Anything else is a waste of human resources and fails good Tory principles of practicality. It is also a mainstream Tory position to say that people should stand on their own two feet but this would always be qualified by the phrase “where they can”. A social safety net is fully embraced by Tories.
Bryant’s problem is that the mainstream majority in this country thinks that Labour stands for “everyone to have a decent life, regardless of how much effort they put in”. It is a mainstream view that too many people make too small a contribution to our society. This might mean not bothering at school, it might mean skiving at work, it might mean cheating the benefits system, it might mean being anti-social, it might mean letting drink or drugs rule your life, it might mean not saving for your own future, it might mean not raising your kids right. It is a mainstream view that actions should have consequences. The Tories’ tough love is in keeping with the mood of the times. Labour’s something for nothing culture is not.
Bryant is an interesting case. He went to an elite public school (Cheltenham College where many scenes for the film If were shot) followed by Oxford. He was a member of the Conservative Party, and an elected office-holder in the Oxford University Conservative Association. During the eighties he got ordained, worked out that he was gay and joined the Labour party. Bryant was born two weeks before me so I understand the times he lived through. I don’t suppose that many parts of the Conservative party were particularly gay friendly in the eighties (if only in antithesis to the often overwrought politicisation of this issue at the time – remember “political lesbians”?). You might have thought that with history on both sides of the political divide Bryant would have come up with something a bit more insightful. Although Tory love is tough it is real enough all the same. Bryant should know.