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Bright Blue held their latest Drink Tank last week, a packed out event featuring Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP. Amidst the ebb and flow of discussion Mr Freeman touched on a thesis about the current political landscape, suggesting that the demons awoken by the 2008 crash now defined British politics, with the perception that the crash led to an iniquitous consolidation of wealth hardening into a widespread public anger.  A slight chill was audible in the room at this suggestion – no Conservative wants to hear of the return of the politics of envy in any form. Yet however troubling the prospect is, we need to face it.

For Mr Freeman’s analysis is correct – a globalised elite did increase their wealth following the crash, at a time when the life chances of middle and lower income families stalled.

The Quantitative Easing (QE) put in place following the crash resulted in the value of money falling, causing the value of other assets, such as property, antiques, gilts and bonds to rise. People in possession of such assets tended to be wealthy already – Bank of England and ONS figures from 2013 suggest that as a result the richest 10% of UK households saw the value of their assets increase by over £300,000 during five years of QE following the crash. It’s an increase that has been all the more marked for the very richest – during the seven years it took for median household incomes in the UK to return to their 2007 level, billionaires living in Britain saw a 112% increase in the value of their assets.

So increases in the wealth of the richest have far outstripped increases in the incomes of middle and lower earners in the aftermath of 2008.  Should Conservatives care?

Conservatives who care about building a stable, bonded society should. They always have. Back in the 1840s Benjamin Disraeli, faced with a society where a minority were reaping the rich rewards of industrialisation whilst the incomes of the majority increased only gradually, penned his seminal novel ‘Sybil’. The book starkly warned of how a sense on the part of the majority that they were locked out of the good things enjoyed by the minority could erode the bonds of national community, all the more so when this state of affairs was blamed on deliberate policy. This disparity of experience could, so Disraeli argued, see Britain rupture into ‘two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy…the rich and the poor’.

This vision of one part of society disengaged from the other, divorced by differing economic experiences, is as disturbing today as it was 170 years ago. All the more so as portents of social disenfranchisement are increasingly discernible in our own time. Anyone who went canvassing in 2015 will know the sinking feeling elicited by the doorstep phrases (and their many, many variations) of ‘you are all in it together’, ‘go back to your ivory tower’ and ‘what do the like of you care for people like me’ stubbornly unchanged from the cynical refrains of 2010. These are the notes of self-defined social separation that could, if left to fester, herald a symphony of social fragmentation.

The post 2008 gulf in economic experience between the wealthiest and the majority is then a challenge that Conservatives need to respond to – but how?

The easy path taken by the left in these matters isn’t open to us. As a responsible party of government we can’t embrace the delights of recreational teeth gnashing and revel in the fun of blaming it all on a nefarious establishment. For just that it is true that the rich have got richer due to QE and related policies adopted (by both Labour and Coalition Governments) after 2008, so too is it true that those policies were necessary to avoid a greater social evil – economic collapse.

QE and related policies were a pot of bitter pills, swallowed to arrest the progress of a bitterer disease. As that disease recedes and the economy grows it is now for Conservatives to recognise the unpleasant taste left behind, and work on shifting it by Conservative means.

It is a process that is already underway – the Prime Minister’s speech last month on boosting life chances set out a comprehensive plan to help enable people from low income backgrounds to build the lives they want to lead, a redistribution of opportunity as opposed to a simple transfer of wealth. At the recent Drink Tank Mr Freeman set out how innovation and entrepreneurship is aiding this process, and has the potential to transform social mobility.  Bright Blue’s recent work on boosting social opportunities and improving access to higher education lays down further policy tracks to follow.

This focus on social mobility must be sustained and radically extended over the years ahead. A fundamental redistribution of opportunity is essential, if we want to avoid the disparate economist experiences of the wealthiest and the majority following 2008 hardening into a permanent rupture. The ingrained economic inequality resulting from policies pursued in the aftermath of the crash is an uncomfortable truth for Conservatives to confront. But confront it we must, if are to hold Disraeli’s one nation together in an age when the the rich and the rest have grown apart.

Matt Browne is an associate of Bright Blue.