British Conservatives And The Youth Vote, Ctd.

YouGov vote by age chart - general election 2017

Through their arrogance and sheer incompetence, the Tories have turned an entire generation away from conservative politics. But the solution is not to go marching off to the socialist Left

It doesn’t have to be like this.

It doesn’t have to be the case that people under 30 years of age vote so overwhelmingly for the parties of the Left, predominantly the Labour Party, while the Conservatives manage to sweep up barely a fifth of the youth vote.

The Tories have shot themselves in the foot by failing to court the youth vote or even speak to their concerns, the result of unbridled arrogance and sheer political incompetence. But the situation is not irreversible, if the right action is taken quickly. Unfortunately, the Tories – hopeless keepers of the conservative flame – look set to learn all of the wrong lessons.

I discussed this on my election night live blog and then again in this separate piece, but since that time several other commentators have jumped into the fray with their own takes, and it’s worth seeing what they have to say.

Former cabinet minister (sacked by Theresa May in her Weakness Reshuffle) and Harlow MP Robert Halfon won a lot of plaudits before the election for being one of few Tories to understand the need to reach out once more to the aspirational working class, and again after the election for criticising the Tories’ lack of vision going into the campaign.

From the Guardian:

Robert Halfon, who lost his frontbench role as minister for skills on Tuesday, said the Conservative party was “on death row” and had failed to offer a positive vision to voters.

The Harlow MP was scathing about the election campaign in which the prime minister lost her Commons majority, saying the Tories did not have a message to rival Labour’s promise to stand up “for the many not the few”.

Writing in the Sun, he said: “The Conservative party is on death row. Unless we reform our values, our membership offering and our party infrastructure, we face defeat at the next election – and potentially years of opposition.

“If we don’t change it wouldn’t matter if we had Alexander the Great or the Archangel Gabriel as leader. We face the wilderness.”

In an attack aimed at the Tory hierarchy – and campaign guru Sir Lynton Crosby – Halfon said: “Our election campaign portrayed us as a party devoid of values. ‘Strong and stable’ is hardly a battle cry. I cannot remember a time in the campaign when the Conservatives attempted to explain what we are really about: the party of the ladder, of aspiration and of opportunity.

“We let ourselves be perceived primarily as the party of ‘austerity’, failing entirely to campaign on our record of a strong economy or strong employment.

“Virtually nothing was said on the NHS or schools or the caring professions that work within them. Instead we created fear among pensioners, and threatened to take away school meals, handing a gift to our opponents. Is it any wonder that the Conservatives did not get a majority?”

Yes and no. Halfon is absolutely right to criticise the Tory campaign for its lack of a positive vision of any kind, let alone a coherent, recognisably conservative vision. But the specific targets of Halfon’s ire are all wrong. To follow his advice, the Tories should have engaged in a race with the Labour Party to shower praise and money on an unreformed NHS, wittered on endlessly about public services and exacerbated Britain’s corrosive culture of universal benefits, where everyone becomes accustomed to receiving handouts from the state regardless of their wealth or individual circumstances (see free school meals, the winter fuel allowance, child benefit and so on).

At least the Cameron/Osborne government, ideologically woolly as it was, made a token strike against universal benefits culture with their child benefit cap. Robert Halfon now sees support for giving benefits to people who don’t need them as the price of political survival. If this is true then there may as well not be a Conservative Party at all, because the Labour socialists will have won the war.

Here’s Nicholas Mazzei, writing in Conservative Home:

“Yeah I did; he was gonna write off my student loan. Come on!”

These were the words of a 25-year-old voter who text me early this morning, who had always voted Conservative and, up until the campaign began 5 weeks ago, was anti-Corbyn.

If you want to understand why the youth vote surged for Corbyn, I want you to read that line and look at the offer the Conservatives have made to the youth of Britain from our own manifesto. From this 25-year old’s own words, “the Conservatives have done nothing to reach out to those under-35”.

Now while most us would agree that the promises of wiping out debts and free university education by Labour were dangerous, unaffordable policies, we need to remember that the youth of the UK have been lumped with endless debts, rising costs in homes and education, and lower potential of earnings.

Much like in the US election, where voters turned out for Trump’s pro-employment message, youth voters in the UK turned out for a party which actually addressed their concerns.

Again, the problem is accurately diagnosed. The suite of Conservative Party policies, such as they were, did very little to even acknowledge the concerns of young people in a cosmetic way, let alone meaningfully address them. The Tories had no plan to encourage the building of sufficient houses to tackle the housing crisis because the status quo works just fine for their older core vote, thankyouverymuch. They remain obstinately committed to the most stubbornly self-harming form of Brexit possible, for absolutely no good reason, when most young people are sceptical of Brexit altogether.

And as icing on the cake, Theresa May and her lacklustre team preached a parsimonious message of fiscal restraint as a regrettable necessity – willingly accepting Labour’s framing of the economic debate! – rather than even attempting to sing the virtues of freedom, liberty and a smaller state dedicated to helping people in real need rather than a large state parcelling out insufficient morsels of assistance to everybody regardless of need.

Theresa May’s team seemingly forgot that people don’t become more conservative as they get older automatically or without some prompting, and that if the Tories continually screw somebody over through their formative years, young adulthood and early middle age then they won’t magically become Tory voters when they get their first grey hair. People become more conservative as they get older because historically, sensible government policy has allowed them to become greater and greater stakeholders in society, largely through property and equity ownership. Cut off millions of young people from this ladder to prosperity and security, and the conveyor belt which gradually moves people from political Left to Right as they age will come grinding to a halt. We see this in the YouGov poll. where the Tories now only overtake Labour among those aged over 50.

But while Mazzei effectively diagnoses the problem, his solutions also seem to involve lurching to the Left:

The UK has the highest average tuition fees in the world, second only to the USA (which is at around £5300 a year compared to £6,000 in the UK). We cannot lump all this debt on to young people. Education in general needs more investment and should be protected at all costs.

No. Why should somebody without a university degree subsidise the education (and future higher earning potential) of somebody who wants a free degree? While tuition fees at some American schools are horrendously expensive and poor value for money, UK fees are much cheaper, to the extent that they still often do not even cover the full cost of tuition. They are by no means outrageous, and those unwilling to make the investment in themselves are under no obligation to attend university. If anything, the presence of tuition fees clamps down on the number of pointless degrees in non-subjects being taken by students. Lower or remove tuition fees and we will likely see an explosion in gender studies and other pointless social justice-related pseudo-courses.

The unnamed government minister who spoke scathingly to the Telegraph about the Tory election campaign hits closer to the truth:

The Conservative Party has become “too shallow” and needs a “re-invigoration of political thought” that can draw young people to the party, a minister has said.

The MP warned that the Tory election campaign had relied on “poxy little slogans” to attract the youth vote and failed to counter Jeremy Corbyn’s offer of “free money” in the form of state-funded university tuition and other hand-outs.

The minister told The Telegraph: “You’ve got to persuade a new generation of people of what’s what. We never even tried, so Corbyn just came in and basically bribed people to vote for him with other people’s money that doesn’t even exist.”

[..] The minister said: “It’s all about political education and argument. The problem with the whole campaign is that it was about politics and politicians. “Everything is too shallow. Politicians have all got their experience but they lose if they forget to re-educate a new generation. You’ve got to persuade a new generation of people of what’s what.

“This is about political persuasion and think tanks and all that stuff.”

Another MP said the party had failed to properly engage younger votes on social media, where many users were instead targeted with videos attacking Mr Corbyn.

“Frankly the party has done very, very little to engage with young people,” he said. “We have made no real effort to garner support, even on social media, which is where everybody gets their news and views these days.

Yes, a thousand times yes. The case for conservatism has to keep being made for each new generation. The very presence of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party should have been a huge wake-up call to the Tories that defunct, failed ideologies do not simply slink away to die once they are exposed and defeated.

Margaret Thatcher’s government may have rescued Britain from 1970s decline, but this was before the living memory of half the electorate. Two generations have come since the Winter of Discontent, with many in the millennial generation probably unable to even explain what it was, or how the failed socialist post-war consensus brought Britain to the brink of irreversible decline.

Thus we now have a generation of young people who take relative material abundance, peace and security for granted rather than appreciating that capitalism is the source of our prosperity, not a drain on it. A pampered generation who simply don’t realise that British and Western values need to be cherished and defended (as the Second World War and Cold War taught older generations).

Ross Clark makes the same point in The Spectator:

The under 35s have never been exposed to the negative images of socialism that were familiar to older generations. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, to my age group socialism was inescapably associated with the failures of the Soviet bloc: it conjured images of queuing half a day for a cabbage, putting your name down on a long waiting list for the prize of a choking, belching Trabant – and of getting shot if you tried to escape. To my generation, capitalism was synonymous with freedom. But I am not sure that holds for a generation who see only large, tax-dodging corporations and bankers who wrecked the economy yet carried on skimming off vast bonuses.

Neither, when reading of Jeremy Corbyn’s renationalisation plans, do the under-35s have memories of nationalised industries in Britain in the 1970s. They don’t recall the three day week, the Winter of Discontent, dirty, late trains, or realise that the chaos on Southern Railway was once symptomatic of labour relations in huge swaths of nationalised industry. All they see are over-priced trains run by private companies which have ruthlessly exploited the private monopolies which they were granted in this, the most botched of the privatisations.

The Corbynite Left (and even Labour centrists) have been incredibly adept at presenting what are really regulatory failures or corrupt crony corporatism as failures of capitalism itself, which – as shown by the willingness of young people to vote for politicians like Bernie Sanders, Jean-Luc Melenchon and Jeremy Corbyn – has led many young people to demand that we throw the baby out with the bathwater. They sit and angrily Tweet about the evils of capitalism using handheld computing devices that only capitalism made possible, and nobody in British conservative politics seemingly has the balls to point out the absurdity to them.

The anonymous government minister is absolutely right to point out that Conservatives have an existential duty to “persuade a new generation of people of what’s what”, that showering public services with endless money and taking back state control of industry would have already happened if repeated lessons from history did not show that this approach simply never works.

The minister is right too when he says “this is about political persuasion and think tanks and all that stuff”. Yes it is. But you won’t reach young people with think tanks and white papers, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that the toxic Tory brand will not persuade them of the merits of conservatism either. That’s why we need strong new independent grassroots organisations to emerge, to promote the idea of freedom, self-sufficiency and a smaller, better-targeted state as an inherently good thing in and of itself, rather than a regretful response to recession.

As I wrote the other day:

For reasons of branding and basic administrative competence, any future small-C conservative movement hoping to gain traction with young people must be distinct from the Conservative Party, free of that residual toxicity and free to criticise the Tory party in government and in opposition when it proposes policies which either betray core values or threaten the interests of young people. A British CPAC and Young Brits for Liberty-style organisation could nurture talent of its own, outside the corrupting, nepotistic influence of the Conservative Party hierarchy, and would greatly increase their collective clout by helping or withholding support from future Tory election campaigns and individual candidacies based on policy, not party loyalty.

It is only through outside groups like this that the image of conservatism stands a chance of being rehabilitated among young people. It is only through a British version of CPAC or YAF that young conservative or agnostic students at university stand a chance against being steamrollered by the fashionable left-wing identity politics which are almost de rigeur for social acceptance and advancement.

[..] We need a strong external repository for conservative principle, capable of engaging with young people who have been continually taught that leftist progressivism = forward-thinking “compassion” while liberty, independence and self-sufficiency from government are evidence of greed and moral failure.

We particularly need to work closely with conservative organisations in the United States, which face a similar uphill struggle in overcoming a historic disinterest in the youth vote but which are now starting to have some success, generated in part by their opposition to the illiberal Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics sweeping American university campuses, with its disregard for freedom of speech and toxic obsession with the politics of victimhood.

We should be sharing best practice back and forth with American conservative organisations as to how to build strong redoubts for conservatism in overwhelmingly leftist places, so that conservatism isn’t washed away altogether. Frankly, British conservatism is in such a parlous state that we need their help. And then, once things have stabilised, we can look to reclaim some of the ground we have lost among young voters.

Skot Covert, Co-Chairman of the College Republican National Committee in the United States, offered this advice for a young conservative revival in the United States:

Due to an extended absence on the right’s part, winning the youth vote won’t be easy and it certainly won’t happen overnight.  However, when the GOP communicates our policy positions in culturally relevant terms in the right mediums, we see progress.  This means understanding how and where young voters communicate and having a discussion on the issues most important to them.

I believe it’s also critical to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to winning young voters.  My generation is diverse and vibrant.  We thrive on uniqueness and self-definition and instinctively reject the notion that we should “go with the flow”.  Crafting an effective youth outreach strategy must be developed around this understanding.

This is certainly true. People crave authenticity in a politician – somebody willing to speak extemporaneously and answer straight questions honestly without first running them through a focus group or a Comms Team. Young people especially, it seems, like an optimistic, forward-looking message rather than lashings of grim tidings delivered by a malfunctioning, cautious android like Theresa May. Who knew? That’s why young people preferred socialist firebrand Bernie Sanders to calculating, establishment Hillary Clinton. That’s why Americans elected Donald Trump as their next president.

But there is no reason why these qualities of openness and relatability cannot be vested in a politician who doesn’t hail from the hard left or the populist pseudo-right. There is no reason why a liberty-minded Conservative MP could not similarly enthuse young people with a message of individual liberty, economic freedom and the advantages (rather than the costs) of restraining the state.

Anoosh Chakelian explains in the New Statesman just how Jeremy Corbyn and Corbyn-supporting outside groups used this quality of authenticity to their advantage:

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign focused heavily on young people – a key manifesto pledge being to scrap tuition fees. His campaign style – rallies across the country, and fewer stage-managed speeches and press conferences than Theresa May – also appealed more to this demographic.

In addition, Labour had viral news on its side. As BuzzFeed reported, pro-Corbyn articles by “alt-left” sites were shared on an enormous scale on social media. I hear that nearly 25 per cent of UK Facebook users watched a Momentum video on the website in the penultimate week of campaigning. This is a particularly effective way of reaching young people, and inspiring them to vote – something the Tories weren’t as good at.

But who in the current Conservative Party hierarchy is remotely equipped for this task? Boris Johnson is probably the most charismatic of the senior Tories, but even he could never pack a large 2000-seat theatre for a political rally the way that Jeremy Corbyn can. And of course Boris Johnson is something of a charlatan, with sky-high negative ratings and absolutely no fixed political compass.

The cold hard truth is that the Tories don’t have anybody who can match Jeremy Corbyn for charisma right now – and how depressing that is. The best we can hope for is to give some of the better backbenchers (I keep banging on about Kwasi Kwarteng and James Cleverly) some ministerial experience to groom them for a few years down the road, but rather than looking to the future, Theresa May seems to have decided to keep her cabinet stuffed full of bland non-entities with her latest reshuffle. In her infinite wisdom.

That’s why we cannot rely on the Conservative Party to save conservatism from itself. The Tory party is corrupt, inbred, nepotistic, dysfunctional and ideologically bankrupt. Right now they are seriously considering skipping after Jeremy Corbyn on a fun political jaunt even further to the hard Left. Yes, somehow the Tories squandered the opportunity to use Corbyn’s rise to move the Overton Window of British politics further to the right, and instead are doing all they can to help him shift it to the left. These people are incompetent clowns who cannot be trusted to walk with scissors, let alone safeguard the ideology and worldview which we depend on to keep us prosperous and free.

We need outside groups to pick up the burden so shamefully dropped by Theresa May and her dysfunctional party. Student organisations, business organisations, bloggers, the works. The Tory Party as it currently stands will never persuade any more young people to vote Conservative. We need outside organisations with legitimacy and untainted reputations to make the positive case for conservative, pro-market values, and then pressure the Tories to hold the line rather than fight every battle on Labour’s terms.

I repeat: do not look to the Conservative Party to successfully engineer an improvement in the youth vote. The Tories are not going to make things any easier for themselves when it comes to youth outreach, and given the level of competence exhibited by CCHQ they have the potential to make things a whole lot worse.

We few young small-C conservatives need to pick up the slack ourselves.


Jeremy Corbyn - youth vote - t shirt

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The Moral Mission Of Iain Duncan Smith

Any leftists taking a break from singing “Ding, dong, the witch is dead!” following the recent resignation of Iain Duncan Smith from the cabinet might want to invest 50 seconds watching this video.

Guido points out:

Filmed in December, well before his resignation, before the cynics cry foul. Anyone doubting whether IDS’ moral mission was genuine should watch.

It’s not about Evil Tories hating the poor and the sick and wanting them to suffer. It was never about that. Some on the left may find it quicker and easier to caricature the politics and philosophy of those with whom they disagree, but I don’t think that any sane, rational person can now look at what Iain Duncan Smith tried to do at the Department for Work and Pensions and say that he was in any way motivated by malice.

When the Left are willing to come to the debate with suggestions of their own for welfare reform (besides chucking more money at the same broken system), we can have a debate – and sometimes perhaps even find common ground, through radical ideas like universal basic income.

When the Left are able to stop virtue-signalling and begin with the assumption that conservatives are not evil but simply have different ideas for how to achieve a just and fair society, we can have a healthy debate on the issues even if we rarely achieve a real meeting of minds.

Or, you know, they can just keep shouting about the heartless Tory scum.


Iain Duncan Smith - Tory Scum - Conservative Party - Nazis

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What Conservative Government? – Part 4, Iain Duncan Smith Resignation

Iain Duncan Smith - IDS - Resignation

How many more ideologically principled, Thatcher-style conservatives can David Cameron’s centrist political machine afford to alienate?

There is a telling line in James Kirkup’s excellent, fair assessment of the full context behind Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation:

The Prime Minister has already done things that will underpin his eventual legacy: winning the Scottish independence referendum and the general election.

Kirkup probably meant this as praise, but in reality it is the most damning indictment of the current conservative government imaginable – far worse than anything that Iain Duncan Smith said in his resignation letter.

Because it is quite true – some of the greatest accomplishments of David Cameron and his core team of loyalists since 2010 are avoiding having the country disintegrate on their watch, and managing to win a second general election against a historically weak Labour leader pursuing a transparently flawed strategy. If the bar for success in British government has truly been set so low then we are in real trouble.

But David Cameron is not a visionary leader. He came to power in 2010 promising to get Britain through difficult economic times, and was re-elected in 2015 promising to be a reasonably competent Comptroller of Public Services. And to be fair to the man, he never really promised to be a great statesman or a formidable world leader.

Being a doggedly centrist technocrat is all well and good, but eventually people quite rightly start to ask what your government is for, besides acquiring the reins of power and then keeping hold of them for as long as possible. David Cameron’s best answer – the main headline from the Conservative Party’s 2015 general election manifesto – was that we should vote Tory because they have a “plan for every stage of your life“.

Nobody within the Conservative Party seemed to care that this sounded alarmingly socialist and suggestive of the Nanny State – people craved security above freedom, it was believed, and so that’s what would be promised and delivered. More of the status quo, whether the status quo worked well or not.

In other words, as this blog has long been saying and my Conservatives for Liberty colleague Paul Nizinskyj has now eloquently written, David Cameron’s role model is far more the steady pair of hands in tough times rather than the visionary, bloody minded reformer – more Ted Heath than Margaret Thatcher.

I won’t lie: my first reaction on hearing the news that Iain Duncan Smith – who together with Michael Gove is one of the few Conservative heavyweights left with any discernible core conviction – had finally snapped and told George Osborne exactly what to do to himself was “great – anything to make the smug little cretin sweat”.

Because George Osborne is David Cameron with less charisma. And since David Cameron has almost no charisma of his own, that puts George Osborne well into negative territory. Given the fact that his blunders (the Omnishambles Budget, tax credits, PIPs) have done as much to colour the political landscape as his “victories”, I also find his reputation as a master political strategist to be hugely overinflated.

If running to the political centre by jettisoning core conservative principle by adopting left-of-Labour policies like a £9 minimum wage counts as political genius then sure – anybody who can successfully cross-dress as a politician from a different party to pick off some extra votes is a master strategist. But it makes George Osborne a lousy conservative.

Not everything in Osborne’s budget was wrong. Should the thresholds for tax brackets move upwards with inflation? Ideally yes, they should do so every year to neutralise the effect of fiscal drag. But to package measures such as this with reductions in the Personal Independence Payments to hundreds of thousands of disabled people is frankly idiotic.

In some ways, this is emblematic of the ridiculous nature of the Budget spectacle, a choreographed event which encourages the Chancellor of the Exchequer to play god with other minister’s departments, either stealing their flagship ideas (as with academies) or otherwise presenting them out of context. But it also speaks to this government’s utter failure to enact a bold, coherent and unapologetically conservative agenda.

Janet Daley sums it up perfectly:

Mr Osborne’s reputation as a tactical political genius has gone south too. Maybe that’s been the problem all along: his understanding of politics was all about tactics – about messaging and grids, presentational gloss and re-branding – and had nothing to do with fundamental, irreconcilable principle. I am prepared to guess that he quite literally does not understand politicians who are prepared to risk everything for an idea, a conviction: a personal moral mission.

He thinks that they are bloody-minded and naive, with no comprehension of the modern science of winning elections. But that, it seems, is not what the people believe: they are beginning to think that their leaders should stand for something, should have a fundamental sense of what they are in politics for. It’s what they call “authenticity”, and it could turn out to be more of a winner than all the clever marketing techniques in the world. Imagine that.

I understood what Michael Gove was trying to accomplish at Education. And I get what Iain Duncan Smith was wrestling with at the Department for Work and Pensions, and admire his semi-successful efforts to get people into work, and to make that work pay more than dependency on the state. Unlike many others who write sanctimoniously but ignorantly about the issue, I have witnessed the welfare state up close, and seen exactly what our “compassionate” system is capable of doing to people when the dead-eyed state machine is responsible for their lives.

I get all of that. But I have no idea what David Cameron is trying to accomplish as prime minister, or what George Osborne thinks he is doing at the Treasury. Because it certainly isn’t paying down Britain’s debts, as they both like to claim. Nor is it guarding Britain’s sovereignty and place in the world – Cameron has gutted Defence, and is in the process of tricking the British people into voting to remain in what he falsely claims to be a “reformed” European Union.

Neither Cameron or Osborne are motivated by the desire to roll back the state and make the British people more free – their heavy-handed government is all for ever-greater restrictions on both ancient and recent hard-won civil liberties, and is seemingly anxious to sacrifice what freedom we have left upon the altar of “national security”.

There is almost nothing about shrinking the state and expanding personal liberty in this government. But there are lots of policies – cutting state spending on the poorest and weakest in society while continuing to lavish stage largesse on wealthy older people (through non-means tested benefits and the lack of a housing supply policy to benefit the young) – which play right into Labour’s hands, making the Tories (and those who support them) look like nothing more than selfish, grubby opportunists, lining the pockets of the already wealthy while others suffer.

In short, I don’t know what this Conservative government is for, besides trying to stay in power and preventing Labour from stealing it. And apart from the work he was doing in his own department, I suspect that Iain Duncan Smith didn’t know either, no matter how much obligatory praise he heaped on Cameron in his resignation letter.

So I cannot do anything but endorse Iain Duncan Smith’s decision to quit. The final straw was no doubt Downing Street’s insistence that Duncan Smith come out all guns blazing in defence of the welfare cuts in the Budget, while simultaneously planning to walk back the proposals themselves – making IDS look like the crazed ideologue and Cameron / Osborne as the calm voices of reason. Who would want to stick around to be treated in that way?

And if Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation destabilises the government – so what? We currently have a nominally conservative prime minister who is busily enacting Tony Blair’s fourth term of office. We effectively already have a Labour prime minister – or a New Labour one, at least.

Maybe an improbable defeat to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party – or a good scare, at least – is the shock the Tories need to dig deep and find a real conservative leader.


Postscript: Iain Duncan Smith’s full resignation letter – which this blog believes was far too generous and courteous – is shown below.

I am incredibly proud of the welfare reforms that the government has delivered over the last five years. Those reforms have helped to generate record rates of employment and in particular a substantial reduction in workless households.

As you know, the advancement of social justice was my driving reason for becoming part of your ministerial team and I continue to be grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to serve. You have appointed good colleagues to my department who I have enjoyed working with. It has been a particular privilege to work with excellent civil servants and the outstanding Lord Freud and other ministers including my present team, throughout all of my time at the Department of Work and Pensions.

I truly believe that we have made changes that will greatly improve the life chances of the most disadvantaged people in this country and increase their opportunities to thrive. A nation’s commitment to the least advantaged should include the provision of a generous safety-net but it should also include incentive structures and practical assistance programmes to help them live independently of the state. Together, we’ve made enormous strides towards building a system of social security that gets the balance right between state help and self help.

Throughout these years, because of the perilous public finances we inherited from the last Labour administration, difficult cuts have been necessary. I have found some of these cuts easier to justify than others but aware of the economic situation and determined to be a team player I have accepted their necessity.

You are aware that I believe the cuts would have been even fairer to younger families and people of working age if we had been willing to reduce some of the benefits given to better-off pensioners but I have attempted to work within the constraints that you and the chancellor set.

I have for some time and rather reluctantly come to believe that the latest changes to benefits to the disabled and the context in which they’ve been made are a compromise too far. While they are defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers. They should have instead been part of a wider process to engage others in finding the best way to better focus resources on those most in need.

I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.

Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working age benefit bill. There has been too much emphasis on money saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.

It is therefore with enormous regret that I have decided to resign. You should be very proud of what this government has done on deficit reduction, corporate competitiveness, education reforms and devolution of power. I hope as the government goes forward you can look again, however, at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure “we are all in this together”.


Iain Duncan Smith

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NHS-Worship, Non-Contributory Welfare And Britain’s Idea Of Fairness

Save Our NHS

Blind devotion to our indifferent, non-contributory welfare state plus a warped definition of “fairness” are holding Britain back

The Guardian’s ongoing “This Is The NHS” series is really pushing my buttons at the moment. The newspaper is clearly particularly proud of their feature project, which makes the series’ blatant NHS hagiography and stunning lack of intellectual curiosity especially infuriating to read.

As a journalistic exercise it has been utterly contemptible, constantly telling people what they want to hear – that the NHS saves lives (as though that were not a feature of every healthcare system), that it employs many hardworking people – rather than what they need to hear in order to make an informed, dispassionate judgement about whether the UK’s unique approach to healthcare delivery is sustainable in the future.

Any and every inconvenient fact which suggests that the NHS is not in fact the “envy of the world” is immediately shot down in the series of articles – like when the Guardian quotes a professor of European public health‘s dismissal of reports criticising the NHS as being “market oriented”, as though the accusation automatically ends the argument, and as though we could not have foreseen that opinion by simply reading his job title.

For the better part of a month now we have been treated to statements such as this, comparing the NHS to other healthcare systems and – unsurprisingly – finding it to be the best in the world:

A mission statement set in 1948 for a universal service free at the point of use is under strain like never before. People are still able to see a GP free of charge – though booking an appointment is becoming harder. It will cost nothing to call out an ambulance and go through A&E, to undergo chemotherapy or major surgery. And yet about 11% of the population prefer to pay for private health insurance.

“And yet”! And yet despite having this state-provided, socialist wonder on our doorstep, an astonishing 11% of the population elect to pay for supplementary coverage. Could it possibly be because cancer outcomes in the UK are about the worst in the developed world, or because getting to see the specialist who can actually treat your condition requires going through the gatekeeping step of booking a GP appointment, often with a month-long wait before each step? No. The people who pay to go private are clearly just ungrateful, verging on insane, to want to circumvent such a benevolent system.

Yesterday, this saccharine coverage – and the Guardian’s publication of a parsimonious little online calculator enabling readers to calculate how much they “cost” the NHS – prompted me to write:

But of course we all know exactly why the Guardian is so eager to talk about how much we cost the state (and chide us for doing so) yet desperate to avoid talking about how much we contribute. Because to look at both sides of the equation simultaneously would be to encourage the public to ask whether they getting value for money. And it would reveal – as we now know – that the majority of us are net takers, or beneficiaries, from the system.

The Guardian’s whole anti-Tory, anti-austerity schtick is built entirely on the notion that we all contributed to our public services, and that the dastardly Evil Tories are cutting services to which we have all made substantial financial contributions. They seek to perpetuate the vague notion that we have a contributory welfare system, when in reality Britain’s welfare system is defiantly, depressingly non-contributory.

And that, right there, is the real problem.

Not the NHS itself – a flawed but well-meaning organisation filled to the brim with mostly hard working and well intentioned people – but rather, the warped view we have of the concept of “fairness” in this country, and the desperate lengths the Left will go to to stop us from thinking rationally about important issues.

In Britain, the word “fair” has been taken by the Left and forcibly redefined to mean “redistributive”. You’ll see it in public discussions of any issue from tax policy to healthcare – no policy can ever be described or promoted as being “fair” unless it takes from the privileged few and given to the “disadvantaged” many. Everything now has to be redistributive – or at least, nothing can ever move in a less redistributive direction, resulting in a one-way ratchet to ever bigger government.

Thus Gordon Brown’s decision to hike the top rate of income tax from 40% to 50% was bold, progressive and generous, while George Osborne’s decision to undo just some of that punitive and unproductive tax increase (cutting the top rate from 50% to 45%) was a corrupt, almost immoral “giveaway to millionaires”.

And thus a healthcare system based on insurance – which might see people who make unhealthy lifestyle choices pay more, rather than being subsidised by their peers – is considered unthinkably bad, while the NHS model, funded through our progressive tax system, is lauded as being inherently good and virtuous. Indeed, the only way that the NHS could be improved in the eyes of its most ardent admirers would be if wealthy people could be targeted and forced to pay arbitrary additional “NHS tributes” every time they experienced success or felt any kind of joy in their unfairly privileged lives.

And this is why it is almost impossible to imagine real reform of the NHS, the welfare state or any other major modern edifice of British public life. Because “fairness” has been corrupted from its more authentic meaning, the meaning which we might apply in any other context in life – the principle of reward being commensurate with effort, or “getting out what you put in”. And while we may still be taught The Little Red Hen as children, as adults we much prefer to virtue-signal by nodding along to the mantra that fairness means the state blindly treating everyone exactly the same.

But there is nothing “fair” about the status quo. As this blog noted last year while discussing Britain’s homicidal welfare system:

Usually it’s good when government does not discriminate. Justice, for example, should certainly be blind, as the old saying goes. But when it comes to social security, we choose to regard our welfare system as a “safety net”. Yet any fisherman knows that different nets are needed for different environments, and likewise a one-size-fits-all safety net for citizens experiencing unemployment or hard times simply won’t catch everybody. Some will slip through entirely and crash to the ground, while others will become ensnared and trapped forever. In other words, when it comes to welfare we should actually want the government to actively discriminate.

[..] The problem – and the great moral rot at the heart of the British welfare system – is that the state makes absolutely no distinction between the perfectly-fit, perfectly-able eighteen year-old who can’t quite be bothered to look for a job, and people of more nuanced and complex circumstances. Worse still, the system treats people who have worked hard for many years, often contributing enormous tax payments to the Treasury throughout their lifetimes, in exactly the same perfunctory way that it treats a person spat out of compulsory education at eighteen without the curiosity or drive to find a career.

[..] People talk about the welfare system as being a “safety net” without thinking, and for some people it may function as such tolerably well, if they ever use it at all. But for many thousands and millions of others, our universal and non-contributory system – which remarkably, despite being the product of classic Big Government, takes absolutely no account of our individual lives and circumstances – is no such thing.

If a person is born into deprived circumstances, our social safety net is far more likely to resemble deadly quicksand, seeming benign at first but quickly trapping the victim without hope, dragging them ever deeper with each desperate exertion to break free. And if they are even moderately well-off but suddenly fall on hard times, Britain’s universal welfare system certainly isn’t like landing in a soft safety net – it’s more like smacking into a concrete floor from a fifty-foot drop.

Contributory vs non-contributory. Kristian Niemietz of the IEA perfectly encapsulated the difference between these two principles in an IEA article from 2013:

The difference between a contributory and a means-tested welfare system is not just an administrative one. The two reflect completely different conceptions of fairness, and different understandings of what a welfare system should be there for.

A contributory system is based on an understanding of ‘fairness’ in the sense of ‘proportionality’, or reciprocity: the more you have paid into the common pool, the more you should be entitled to take out of it. Quid pro quo, something for something. In a means-tested system, meanwhile, fairness is understood as supporting the needy, with support being proportional to need. The more you need, the more you get, and if you don’t need support, you won’t get any.

And goes on to explain that despite originating from an utterly perverse interpretation of “fairness”, re-establishing the contributory principle is politically toxic in Britain because it would mean breaking the association – forged in the many decades since the Beveridge Report was first published – between the word “fairness” and the idea of the state treating everybody exactly alike, regardless of merit:

Due to their emphasis on proportionality, contributory systems are not, in themselves, redistributive. They are only redistributive to the extent to which they deviate from the contributory principle, which no system adheres to in an entirely pure form. But a welfare state that honours contribution cannot, at the same time, be strongly redistributive, and a welfare state that is strongly redistributive cannot, at the same time, honour contribution. In this sense, those who have recently discovered their love for the contributory principle are not telling the full story. They are right to point out that the British welfare state offers those who have worked and contributed for a long time a rough deal. But they fail to mention that this is precisely what redistribution is all about. If the welfare state has little left for those who have a paid a lot into the system, it is because all the money has already been spent on non-contributory transfers.

So unless our new contribution enthusiasts are also planning to substantially expand the welfare state – and I take it that that is not their intention – then they can only restore the contributory principle by reducing the extent of redistribution. Since nobody appears to be prepared to do that either, ‘something for something’ is hollow rhetoric. There will be no return to contributory welfare.

It seems to me that there are two potential ways to go. On one hand, we could move toward a more genuinely contributory welfare system. Under such a system, the amount of (say) unemployment benefit received would vary according to prior salary and past taxes paid, making it closer to unemployment insurance – a disbursement intended to provide a time-limited “soft landing” in the event of unforeseen job loss. Means testing would cease under such a system. And while a basic payment would be available to all citizens, those who contributed most would receive more help should they fall on hard times.

And on the other hand, we could accept that this more discerning form of “fairness” is politically toxic and unachievable, cut our losses, and focus instead on making the current bloated and inefficient system of applying for a complex array of potential benefits much more streamlined. And our best hope in this case might be to follow the lead of Finland and implement a form of Basic Income (otherwise known as negative income tax).

Basic Income offers something to both the political Left and Right. For those on the Left, the principle of universality is maintained. Everyone receives a guaranteed, flat-rate disbursement from the state every month, regardless of their wealth or income level, to be spent on essentials like food and housing or frittered away on foreign holidays as the recipient needs – or prefers. And for those on the Right, the expensive bureaucracy involved in means testing is eliminated, nobody is ever disincentivised from working, and the existence of “flat benefits” may eventually help to normalise the mirror concept of flatter taxation.

Is Basic Income “fair”? Strictly speaking, not by either of the two definitions discussed here. It is neither actively redistributive, and nor does it deliver more benefit to those who contribute the most. But despite the many criticisms of Basic Income, it is eminently pragmatic. And this itself is a huge advantage. Rather than having the Left and Right continue to shout at each other and fight each other to the awkward draw which has bequeathed us our current system, Basic Income – once bedded in – could help to depoliticise welfare and guarantee a minimum living standard for all citizens at the same time.

These are debates that we could be having in this country, if only we were able to stop patting ourselves on the back for the enlightened “compassion” of our current welfare state. These are some of the radical policy ideas that we could be debating – not as fringe intellectual arguments but as serious policy discussions.

But the debate never happens. And unless something changes, it never will. Politicians – and newspapers like the Guardian – keep us nodding along to the same tired old soundtrack about how lucky we are to have institutions like Our Blessed NHS and welfare state, and we keep on agreeing, even as they kill people.

Beveridge Report - Welfare State

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National Religion Daily Penance: How Much Do YOU Cost Our NHS?

NHS - National Religion - How Much Have I Cost The NHS - Worship - Self Flagellation - Socialism

Don’t join in the Guardian’s fawning worship of the state – you don’t owe the NHS anything

If any further proof were needed that conservatives and socialists think differently and see the world in a completely different way, you need only look at the latest feature in the Guardian’s nauseating, saccharine “This Is The NHS” series, a self-flagellating little feature asking “How much have I cost the NHS?”

In this post, the Guardian takes a break from exploiting real-life stories from doctors and patients to emotionally manipulate people into blindly supporting Britain’s unique but unexceptional healthcare system, and instead invites you to plug your personal details into their online calculator so that you can find out exactly how much money Our Blessed NHS lavishes on you every year. You ungrateful wretch.

The Guardian intones:

Public spending on health services reached £2,069 per person in the UK in 2014-15, but it does not benefit everyone to the same extent. Your annual cost to the NHS depends on your gender, age, and how frequently you use the health services, according to estimates from the Nuffield Trust.

So the total cost of your healthcare increases as you consume more healthcare services. Riveting stuff. Great investigative journalism.

The calculator does throw up some interesting numbers. Interestingly, if you sit stubbornly at home and never use a single NHS service or treatment of any kind, you somehow still manage to cost the health service hundreds of pounds a year.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, if you were really unfortunate and had every possible thing go wrong with you (once) in a given year, the NHS could be on the hook for as much as £180,410 – though I suspect that the calculator is holding back here, and that some patients may comfortably exceed this total without having to check every single box:

How Much Do You Cost The NHS - 3

How Much Do You Cost The NHS - 2

Also interesting is the fact that the only mention of mental health and associated problems from addiction to depression is buried deep in the “Other” section, and not given the prominence that a right-on publication like the Guardian might be expected to lavish. One can only speculate as to the reason for this sudden downplaying of mental health issues.

But the really interesting and revealing fact is that the Guardian published the article at all – and the conspicuous lack of a counterpoint piece asking how much we each contribute to the NHS (or indeed any of our other public services) every year through our taxes. Why the obsession with how much we are individually costing the state (or harming the environment with our carbon dioxide emissions, or doing any other Bad Thing) when there is no equal curiosity about how much we contribute? Looking at one side of the equation is meaningless until you also have visibility of the other.

This deliberate omission is especially galling at a time when some citizen-focused governments are now providing individual taxpayers with an itemised receipt every year, showing how much of their taxes have been spent on different areas of the budget like education, healthcare and defence. George Osborne even brought the practice to Britain, to the inevitable howls of protest (and accusations of disseminating propaganda) from the Left.

It may seem trivial, but this is a fundamental difference in mindset. Issuing a receipt showing how and where government is spending your money is an act of transparency and an acknowledgement that the government derives its legitimacy from – and can only function with the consent of – the citizenry.

Publishing a sanctimonious little online calculator so that your left-wing readership can calculate how much they cost society with every breath, on the other hand, elevates the state above all. It presupposes that we exist only at the pleasure of the government, that the state has a rightful claim on all of our possessions as well as the product of our labour, and that we should be grateful for any trivial sum that we are allowed to keep for ourselves after we have funded the Public Services behemoth.

Doing things the Guardian’s way – focusing on how much taxpayers “cost” their own government – inverts the proper power relationship between citizen and government, which should rightly be one of the state existing to serve and protect the people, not the other way around.

But of course we all know exactly why the Guardian is so eager to talk about how much we cost the state (and chide us for doing so) yet desperate to avoid talking about how much we contribute. Because to look at both sides of the equation simultaneously would be to encourage the public to ask whether they getting value for money. And it would reveal – as we now know – that the majority of us are net takers, or beneficiaries, from the system.

The Guardian’s whole anti-Tory, anti-austerity schtick is built entirely on the notion that we all contributed to our public services, and that the dastardly Evil Tories are cutting services to which we have all made substantial financial contributions. They seek to perpetuate the vague notion that we have a contributory welfare system, when in reality Britain’s welfare system is defiantly, depressingly non-contributory.

Some of us contribute vastly more to the exchequer than we will ever receive back in public services. Some of us struggle to break even. And others are on “take” mode for pretty much their entire lives – often for very justifiable reasons, but other times much less so. Most of us will fall into different categories at different stages of our lives.

But the Guardian doesn’t want people to know or think about any of this, or have access to this information. The prosperous middle-class couple on a joint six-figure income, blessed with good health and the lifestyle habits to maintain it, may well balk when they realise how much they are contributing to the NHS compared to what they receive back in a given year, or the equivalent projected lifetime figures. And they may balk again when they realise that their chain-smoking neighbour who trundles off to the doctor at the first sign of a cold contributes far less.

In short, real transparency about contributions made and benefits received would encourage a more consumer-like mindset among the people, forcing them to take responsibility and make the decisions which are best for them and for their families. And this goes against everything that the Guardian believes, because they want us to be a nation of state-dependent drones, flopping around helplessly, utterly reliant on services and/or alms disbursed by the government.

So, to recap: Itemised bills from the government for services provided to you by the state? Wonderful, brilliant idea, and a great way to remind us of everything that the beneficent nanny state does on our behalf.

Itemised receipts from the government showing the breakdown of how your tax payments are being spent? Evil propaganda designed to mislead the people and whip the lemmings up into a hysterical rage.

Glad we cleared that up.

A scene from the Olympic opening ceremony celebrating the NHS

NHS Worship - London Olympic Games 1

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