‘Middle England’ moves centre stage

Major makes his appeal to middle England

“IN THE first few days after Tony Blair was elected I said to my wife, ‘You know, I agreed with everything he said’.”

These were the words of a delegate to last week’s Conservative Party conference of constituency delegates. The Labour Party’s steady rightwing drift has been so far-reaching that the Tories are torn between two instincts: they want to claim the credit for Labour’s conversion to the Thatcherite free-market consensus, but in order to cling onto their supporters they need to pretend that Blair’s party has not really changed.

Occasionally they have been letting slip their own belief that the next general election is as good as lost. Party chairman Jeremy Hanley told the same conference, “There will still be lots of places that are coloured blue on election night.”

If the Tories are to avoid a Canada-style wipe-out at the polls they must show that they alone, in the words of home secretary Michael Howard, understand “the concerns of middle England” (the phrase itself demonstrates the Conservatives’ lack of imagination: are Wales and Scotland to be written off?).

What John Major desperately needs is another Big Idea. Remember the pathetic Citizens’ Charter and ‘back to basics’ campaigns?

This time he hopes to obscure the bankruptcy of his government by stressing its continuity with the Thatcher administrations of the eighties: “A good part of the agenda is in many ways complete.”

He points to privatisations, the ending of “hyper-inflation” and the curbing of union power. It is true the whole of British politics was carried to the right in the wake of these policies. But in themselves they did not constitute the central aim of Thatcherism - to halt the long-term decline of British capitalism. Chancellor Kenneth Clarke’s notion that France and Germany “can now feel us breathing down their necks as we catch them up” is absurd.

He has to make such claims in order to justify the tax-cutting bribes that his two pre-election budgets will inevitably contain.

But the Tories know that this is not enough. They know that their attacks on the working class have not only hit the low paid and unemployed. Millions of better off workers have also suffered from the effects of the market: insecurity and ever increasing stress in the workplace, while the dismantling of the welfare state continues and health and education are vandalised.

Yet what has John Major come up with to persuade them it has all been worthwhile? Nothing but the same tired old promises to get tough on crime and ‘young offenders’ - this time backed up with a new assault on civil liberties through identity cards and national fingerprint and DNA registers.

After 16 years in office, the Tories are adrift. The ruling class will throw its weight behind Labour in its attempt to shore up its system.

Workers must be persuaded not to follow suit.

Jim Blackstock