Conservative Party

May's 'one nation' mission: let's talk about white working-class boys


“But David’s true legacy is not about the economy, but about social justice,” explained Theresa May in her first speech as Prime Minister. “David Cameron has led a ‘one nation’ government, and it is in that spirit that I also plan to lead.” It’s all words, of course, until we read the policy theory and see the praxis: phrases like ‘social justice’, ‘one nation’ and ‘in that spirit’ means an awful lot of woolly things to a lot of zealous people, each eager to mould a political mission to their particular apprehension of justice and righteousness. But consider the details:

That means fighting against the burning injustice that if you’re born poor you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white. If you’re a white working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately. If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand. If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.

But the mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone means more than fighting these injustices. If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise.

You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home but you worry about paying the mortgage. You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school. If you’re one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly.

I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.

When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws, we’ll listen not to the mighty, but to you. When it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you. When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few, we will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.

We are living through an important moment in our country’s history. Following the referendum, we face a time of great national change. And I know because we’re Great Britain that we will rise to the challenge. As we leave the European Union, we will forge a bold, new, positive role for ourselves in the world, and we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.

That will be the mission of the Government I lead. And together, we will build a better Britain.

This is a radical manifesto: a moral vision for a Disraelian ‘one nation’ mission. You can quibble over whether it’s ‘compassionate conservatism’ or ‘social justice’, but it is unequivocally Christian because it is a mission to govern not for the privileged elite, wealthy and powerful, but for ordinary people in low-paid jobs who are struggling to bring up their children and make ends meet. It inclines toward governmental righteousness precisely because it privileges the poor, the oppressed and the under-dog; those who not only struggle to make ends meet, but whose struggle dumps them on scrap-heap of society because their ends are pre-ordained.

Political rhetoric? Sophistry? Possibly. We’ll see. But when did you last hear a prime minister – a Conservative prime minister – talk not only about the working class, but the white working class? We hear so much about BME injustices, the treatment of Asian girls and disadvantaged black boys, that it has become racist to talk about ‘white’ anything, let alone throw taxpayers’ money at their problems. So nobody speaks up for them – especially the white, wealthy, powerful politicians – for fear of the ‘r’ word, which spells death to ascent up the greasy pole.

It is by no means a new or unknown problem. Consider: ‘Our education system is prejudiced against white, working class boys – it’s time to empower them‘; ‘White working class boys from poor neighbourhoods unlikely to do A-levels‘; ‘White working-class boys are the worst performing ethnic group at school‘; ‘Why do white working-class kids do so badly?‘; ‘What puts white working-class boys off university?‘; ‘Who speaks up for poor white boys when it comes to their education?‘ The research is valid; the reports are reliable. White working-class boys get a raw deal in a state education system which is predisposed to ponder gender-gaps and ventilate incessantly about multi-ethnic hyper-sensitivities. Poor white boys are now treated worse than the black and brown immigrants of decades gone by. Worse, even, than generations of young ladies who were deemed fit for nothing but lives of cooking, sewing, knitting, cleaning and child-rearing.

White working-class boys belong in factories or down the pit (if they can find one: if not, a hoodie-life on the urban dole will do – they won’t amount to much anyway..). There is chronic disaffection, lack of aspiration, bad parental attitudes, no work ethic and poor attendance. And all we’ve heard for years is the cry: “Something must be done.” But nothing ever has been: their identity has been subsumed to waves of political correctness and complex social negotiation. They can’t spell; they’re rubbish at maths, and unfit for work. But who gives a shit?

Curious, isn’t it, after decades of Blue Labour justice and Red Tory equality that we have ignored educational justice and equality of opportunity for our own poor white boys. Theresa May isn’t afraid to talk about it. If she solves it, she will bring the ‘one nation’ flag back to the radical Whiggish wing of Conservatism, where it has always truly belonged.