Common sense breaks out. No, really.

Common sense breaks out. No, really.

1st April 2015

Compassion in British Politics: who will stand for the poorest in May 2015

Last night the CSJ hosted our pre-election debate, Compassion in British Politics: who will stand for the poorest in May 2015?  The superb Sarah Montague took to the Chair, drawing out key observations and insight from Tim Montgomerie  and Lord Maurice Glasman.  It was as sane and sensible a discussion as you’re likely to hear during the course of the general election campaign.  Here are a few of the highlights and observations:

  • Through the Red Tory and Blue Labour initiatives we knew this already, but I was reminded again last night that the Right of the Labour party and the Left of the Conservative party could be its own party.  There was talk from Lord Glasman about a ‘war cabinet’ between the two parties and although he said diplomatically that it ‘hadn’t been a good conversation’ when he raised it with his Leader, there was lots of common ground between the panellists.  With the Left moving further Left and the Right to the Right, perhaps a new home might emerge for those nearer the centre.  Stranger things have happened.
  • Both Tim Montgomerie and Lord Glasman argued that politics is failing because it views the world in materialist rather than relational terms. The current approach is to consider people as consumers, workers or taxpayers, rather than fathers, mothers, philanthropists etc.  How this translates to policy and the heat of a general election campaign is a different matter.
  • Maurice also argued that we need to switch from incentives to vice to incentives to virtue in our society.  He said that we reward the bad and overlook the good.  This is a particular problem in the market and with the current capitalist system more broadly.
  • He also criticised the Conservatives for failing to apply its critique of the State to the market, in which vice not virtue is rewarded.  Tim added that one of the reasons capitalism is brought into disrepute is the lack of downward mobility, as well as upward mobility.  When do we see the rich get poorer or our powerful institutions fail, he asked?
  • When asked what each would do as a top social justice priority if they entered Government, Tim identified a major housebuilding programme and Maurice opted for legislating to ensure big business Boards have more workers on them.  It’ll be fascinating to see if that makes its way into Labour’s manifesto.
  • Tim’s connection of housing and family policy is refreshing and a powerful way to make the argument to Conservatives about the need for the State to take a leading role.  If there aren’t enough places to live or decent living conditions in which families can thrive, he said, we’ll never back families as we should in this country.  A powerful argument.
  • Linked to this, a battle rages about how bold to be about family, especially in the Labour party.  One of the policy nuggets Maurice dug out was his attempt to have Labour back marriage in its manifesto by promising weekends away and holidays for married couples who pass anniversary milestones, funded by the taxpayer.  He suggested two weeks in Spain for those who had been together for 10 years.  Tim drew out the way in which the radical family policy a Conservative majority Government might have pursued – i.e. focusing on increasing familystability – has fallen victim to Liberal Democrats in Coalition.  I would add that a number of leading Conservatives share the same scepticism about these ideas, which is why at times people like Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron fight for this as a minority within Cabinet.
  • The Labour manifesto hasn’t yet been signed off.  It seemed that people like Maurice and Jon Cruddas were still fighting hard for their ideas to win out.  With only 37 days to go, they better get a move on.  Much has also been reported about the late negotiations and re-drafting of the Conservative one too.
  • Both said UKIP threatened their parties and that whatever happens after May, both parties have to face up to some hard truths about what the UKIP rise says about the failure of politicians to connect to the everyday struggles of the electorate.
  • We ended with some predictions.  Maurice backed Ed Miliband to return Labour as the largest party.  Tim suggested a late swing to the Tories was possible, but he argued that where the polls are in two weeks is where they’re likely to stay.

One final point. Sarah Montague would have been a superb Chair for the election debates.  Her ability to get to the point and push speakers, but in a way that draws out sensible discussion, was refreshing. The country would stand a better chance of making an informed choice at this election with people like her at the media helm.

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