Skip to main content

I believe I owe my success as an entrepreneur to the ultimate Tory moderniser, Margaret Thatcher.Although I share both lunches and aspirations with my Etonian/Oxbridge colleagues, I had an altogether harder, poorer background. Without the meritocratic fervor of Thatcherism, I may never have built my own company from scratch. Labour wanted me down a pit and at odds with the ‘haves’. Thatcher, although ultimately wrong in this respect, didn’t even think travelling by bus was good enough for me (I love travelling by bus!). She mainstreamed a kind of hope that had never been available before – at least not to people like me. Today we need to be asking what Labour traps and misconceptions, dressed up as working class ‘privileges’, remain and what could benefit from another shot of sound Conservative logic. How do we pull people untouched by Thatcher’s dream away from poverty and finally end the ‘them and us’ divide nurtured by the Left? And do we have the guts to do it?

Like many young Tories 20 years ago, I was conscious of the fact equality and tolerance were actually Conservative values. But we badly needed rebranding. We didn’t deserve our ‘nasty party’ label – intolerance wasn’t a characteristic of the individual party member. Cut him or her off from the pride and you’d soon find many had black or gay or single mum friends. Some were even Conservative. But they voted Labour out of fear.We’ve come a long way since then. We now stand at the end of the journey bravely piloted by David Cameron. But the modernisers are stuck. Not because there’s nothing left to modernise but because the prospect of tackling the next major issue risks turning us back into nasties again. In Britain today, 60 per cent of our welfare bill is pensions, which we soon won’t be able to afford. There’s not just a housing crisis but an ownership crisis. What happens our new young society when it doesn’t feel any sense of ownership? Can social housing be for life? Indeed can all benefits and services continue to be available for all?  Mention these subjects in polite society and watch people look the other way. Bring up ‘means testing’ and watch them run out the building.

Having prospered as a child of Thatcherism, I understand that in order to stay the same, things have to change. Again.For many people of my generation, there is no left and right. There’s just necessity. We’re less tribal and more driven by issues. We find it hard to support a party that ignores issues about which we feel passionate. We need to abandon the idea of right and left and realise there is only right and wrong. To do this we need to empower people to leave the shelter of their support-based culture and give them the strength to become leaders themselves. For this to happen we need some serious changes. Churchill defined difference between Conservatism and Socialism as that ‘between the ladder and the queue. We are for the ladder. Let us all do our best to climb. They are for the queue. Let each wait in his place until his turn comes.’

So why, as Conservatives, should we accept the notion that people from the wrong side of the tracks can simply opt out and join the queue? For the majority of able working men and women, social housing should not be for life. It should help you get your feet on the ground, possibly capped at three years. But social housing is a trap and fosters dependency. It fuels complacency and the ‘back to the mines’ mentality of early Labour thinking.And we’ve seen how it lays itself open to serious abuse – perhaps the most high profile example was that of the late trade union leader Bob Crow. He earnt more than £145,000 a year, plus thousands in expenses, but told LBC radio listeners he ‘was under no moral duty’ to move out of his council house. “Comrade Crow” (his words) tried to justify his stance by saying he’d have sold out his socialist credentials by doing so. 

I grew up on an estate that resembled a council estate in a house that resembled a council house. Though surrounded by the town’s roughest council estates, we were probably among the poorest inhabitants. We had no TV or holidays and my parents survived on little food to enable them to pay a mortgage.What they did have was a sense they were doing the right thing – that they were building something for the future and we were all playing our part. My parents were by no means perfect, but they insisted we had a civic duty not to receive handouts or support unless every other avenue was exhausted and it was absolutely necessary. Which, of course, it never was. It’s a philosophy I’ve carried into my adult life. When I had a problem with alcoholism, I considered it my duty to deal with it. I don’t eat sugar as much as I love it because I don’t want to be fat. It’s not vanity so much as my desire not to create unnecessary burdens for the heath service. To take pride in the way I live.

It is time for society to take a grip and realise we need to play our part in saving the future.I’d argue that one of the first steps is to make social housing tenants subject to the rigours of private tenants. Like most private tenants, they should be banned from keeping unsociable dogs. And, taking a leaf from the books of fashionable New York condominiums, they should also be accountable to a committee of their peers and be able to have their leases revoked for antisocial conduct.

Most antisocial behaviour is caused by drug and alcohol abuse. Most drug addicts and alcoholics need to hit or at least approach a ‘rock bottom’ before they find the impetus to stop. The threat of losing their home will usually do the trick. Even if it doesn’t, decent folk shouldn’t have to put up with living next to antisocial bums.Forget right to buy, working tenants should be required to buy their properties if they want to remain in the community and provided state-assisted mortgages, releasing billions from the balance sheet for future home development by the Treasury. You can, after all, put homeowners in the ugliest high rises with considerable success. Look at the Barbican, which on paper does everything wrong aesthetically. Concert towers accessed by subterranean walk ways? Doesn’t sound very appealing. It would be a dangerous slum if it was all social housing but instead it’s one of the most desirable postcodes in town.  

By contrast, disenfranchised tenants have repeatedly been ‘housed’ in attractive housing projects by inspired architects and they quickly feel dead, dark and dangerous.The French are said to be less efficient, less caring and more likely to revolt because they don’t own their properties. Why? Because ownership provides a compelling reason to improve one’s environment. And it’s infectious. If the council house malady was replaced by an appetite for ownership, it would allow people to take responsibility for their actions too. Blair talked emptily about some ‘stakeholder society’. But the Left’s idea of stake-holding is having a union rep. For people to care deeply, they need to be able to claim ownership. To partner in the outcome of government and have something tangible to protect. Behaviour generally improves the more one has to lose.

If the Conservative Party won a 10 per cent increased share in the next General Election, it would probably scrape through with a workable majority. If Labour’s share increased by 10 per cent it would produce a landslide.I’d argue social housing is partly responsible, since it forms a solid bedrock in all constituencies, thereby spreading the Labour vote across the country. It’s gerrymandering on an epic scale. No amount of ‘dressing’ the Tory party either to the centre or back to the right will secure us an outright victory. Instead we have to lift old Labour voters into a new moral consciousness. Freed from the shackles of Labour serfdom, we must help them become servants of goodness – and fully-fledged stakeholders in that goodness.

We are the only party prepared to tackle this because we are the only party without a vested interest in keeping poor people poor and in fear of losing the State freebies that keep them in check.We have to allow people to experience for themselves the reason why we can no longer tolerate the ‘I’m worse off if I work’ culture. It’s not about them, it’s about society. It’s about playing our part. That is the true legacy of Thatcherism.

Ivan Massow is an entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience. His Twitter handle is @IvanMassow.