Magazine article The Spectator

Whose Side Are They On?

Magazine article The Spectator

Whose Side Are They On?

Article excerpt

The Conservatives have proved unafraid of making enemies with their cuts. It's less clear that they know who their friends are

With all the spending review figures published, one question still hangs in the air: whose side is the coalition on? Families with teenagers? No, they'll be hit by higher university fees. Families where the single earner brings home more than £45,000? No, they'll lose child benefit. High earners? There's the new 50p tax for them. The public sector? With all those job cuts, that's a sick joke. The armed forces? Unlikely, after the hatchet job on the defence budget. Ccommuters? No, it's higher fares for them. If Ed Miliband were looking for an aggrieved section of the electorate to champion, this spending review has left him spoiled for choice.

One can argue that the government can't afford friends, because we have an Everestsized deficit. Credible action demands pollarding the state, not just pruning. And we must also consider the nature of this coalition. It's difficult to stand up for any one group when you have to hold together a government representing everyone from the nuclear-disarming, American-sceptic, Europhile Lib Dem left to the 'let's bomb Iran', Eurosceptic, hang-'em-and-flog-'em Conservative right. But the government does still need to know whose side it's on.

The denizens of Downing Street will reach for their polls, and at present the picture looks rather bleak for the Tories. A recent YouGov poll asked voters whether they thought that the Conservatives were close to particular groups in society. After five years of Conservative attempts (mine included) to shift the perception of the party, the results are sobering. Eight out of ten people think that the party is close to the rich, businessmen and the City. Seven out of ten think Con servatives are close to people in the South.

As for being close to Northerners, the working-class, women, people with families and older people, the Conservatives got the thumbs down. It is a poll to make Ed Miliband's heart leap: here is his ready-made Tory-sceptic constituency, largely in Northern seats, waiting for a reason to vote Labour.

The sole glimmer of light in the polling is that the Conservatives are regarded as being the friends of homeowners and, in particular, the 'middle class' - that lumpen chunk of Britain that Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair seemed to 'get' instinctively.

Understanding the middle class is the quality that distinguishes the great prime minister from the good. …

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