Theresa May has not said much during this election campaign that I agree with. She hasn’t really said very much at all. However, one thing she did say was fundamentally true: work is the best route out of poverty.
Some of the middle-class left jumped on this with the usual comeback that most people who are “in poverty” (actually, “whose income is below 60% of the UK median”) are in work. Ha! Take that Theresa! You’re wrong!
No she is not wrong, and what is more people who actually experience poverty (be that low income or social exclusion) know it better than any. After all, certain so-called “lefties” can literally afford to treat politics as a game to make themselves feel good about their own advanced education and comparatively high income; people who experience poverty daily cannot. It matters to them that those governing the country show some knowledge of their plight and of their ambitions – including ambitions to gain self respect (not least through work) and to have their identity and that of their community respected (not least if this identity is “English”).
Instead of understanding those ambitions, too many self-identifying as “Left” (but themselves not experiencing poverty of any form) appear to sneer at them. Their suggestion that work is not the best route out of poverty is heard by those who actually experience it as a suggestion that they should not have any aspirations; they should, so it seems, exist merely as clients of the welfare state and not as people with ambitions and identities of their own. Add this to the implicit (and occasionally even explicit) suggestion that displays of identity (such as England flags) are to be frowned upon or even linked to racism, and all you have created is an even more marginalised group – and one which will most certainly not turn to the Left for answers.
This brings us neatly to two myths. Firstly, there is the notion that the Conservatives do not understand anywhere outside the M25 – yet London is the only region in England and Wales where the Conservatives are polling below 40% (noting that no party has scored that in England and Wales as a whole since 2001). Secondly, there is the notion that the Conservatives only exist for the elite or the rich – yet in fact the Conservative polling score is identical among all classes (as is Labour’s).
I think a Conservative landslide read as a mandate to pursue Brexit and continue public spending squeezes come what may under the leadership of an inadequate prime minister who has no original ideas beyond a sound byte would be a disaster for British democracy. Yet many in the Left – all talk, no listen – are the ones about to let that happen.
Ian James Parsley is a political commentator based in Belfast.