A hundred years ago, only ten per cent of us owned our homes and most families relied on jobs that paid survival wages only. Yet, over the course of the 20th century, a downtrodden working class blossomed into a mass middle class with property, prospects and a stake in the future.
Crucially, this was a transformation that ordinary working people achieved for themselves – succeeding as individuals, families and communities, not as an impersonal collective bound to the state. Instead of the socialist society that the left had predicted and planned for us, we developed as a free society in which individual effort was recognised and rewarded.
However, fourteen years into a new century, and on the eve of a general election, we have to ask ourselves if this is still the case. Is everyone who does the right thing – working to provide for themselves and their families – getting a full share in the benefits of economic growth? Or is it just a minority who can look forward to a brighter future?
Homes. Jobs. Savings.
Politicians like to deal in abstract words like ‘aspiration’ and ‘opportunity’, but there’s nothing vague about the building blocks of a free society – either you have them in your life or you don’t. And there are three that matter most of all:
- Firstly, the chance to own your home.
- Secondly, work that enables you to get on, not just get by.
- And, thirdly, having enough left over at the end of each month to plan for the years ahead.
- This is what all the talk about opportunity comes down to: Homes. Jobs. Savings.
The previous century was a time of remarkable progress on all three fronts – and without it the freedoms we take for granted today would not exist. But we have to face up to the facts:
- The proportion of Britons owning their homes has been falling since 2001 (see chapter 1).
- Wage rates for ordinary working people are stagnant and undermined by inflation – factors that took hold well before the recession (see chapter 2).
- A culture of saving has been turned into a culture of borrowing – with household debt at record levels (see chapter 3).
The foundations of the mass middle class are crumbling. The great historical trends that transformed our economy, our society and our politics are in danger of going into reverse.
The threat to the future
There’s no clearer sign of this than the diminishing hope that our children will have bigger and better opportunities than we did., Whether on homes, jobs or savings, the trend away from opportunity is hurting young people more than anyone (see chapters 1, 2 and 3).
Conservatives must recognise the urgency of the situation. The current Government has steered Britain out of the worst recession since the war, but ordinary working people must have a direct stake in the recovery. If the only way that they can gain from economic growth is through the tax-and-spending powers of the state then the outlook for conservatism in the 21st century is a grim one.
The future for a free economy and a free society depends upon the ability of Britons to prosper by their own efforts, making their own decisions, exercising their own judgment. All that is at risk if the only road to advancement runs through the state.
The Conservative vision of a property-owning democracy hangs in the balance.
It is not enough to recognise the seriousness of the challenges we face as a nation. We also need a way forward. This is the purpose of our manifesto – a policy programme to restore opportunity and rebuild the foundations of a growing and prosperous mass middle class.
A focused manifesto
This isn’t a conventional manifesto. It doesn’t cover a complete A to Z of policy areas. We concentrate on the issues that matter most to our agenda. We lead with three main chapters on homes, jobs and savings. These are supported by two further chapters on money and power – i.e. the economic and political reforms required to make change happen.
Policies to make a real difference
“If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change” – unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury right now. The threats to our property-owning democracy are too grave to limit ourselves to minor policy adjustments and electoral gimmicks. This manifesto is about changing the rules of the system so that it works for and not against the interests of ordinary working people.
A long-term agenda
It took twenty years to halt the rise of the mass middle class. It will take another twenty years to fully undo the damage. Therefore this isn’t just a manifesto for the next election, it is a rallying cry for conservatism in the 21st century.
- House of Commons Library, ‘A century of change: Trends in UK statistics since 1900’, 21 December 1999, page 12
- The Observer, ‘Most Britons believe children will have worse lives than their parents – poll’, 3 December 2011
- David Kingman, Intergenerational Foundation, ‘Will young people be poorer than their parents: 50 economics experts give their views’, February 2013