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Robert Halfon v Jeremy Corbyn: The battle for the working class vote

David Hencke photo
David HenckeBirmingham
Robert Halfon v Jeremy Corbyn: The battle for the working class vote
A new battle of ideas to woo working and middle class voters to the Tories began at an unlikely Tory fringe group meeting supporting trade unions. It was overshadowed by a misty eyed view of Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn's success in attracting tens of thousands of new Labour supporters were given a rare accolade this week at the Conservative Party Conference.

Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow and the skills minister, told a Conservative Party fringe meeting organised by Respublica how the Labour leader had attracted these people because they saw him representing their " moral and ethical " values and being fair minded rather than representing " the privileged few".

No doubt this would lead to a furious denial from the Labour right wingers like Ben Bradshaw and Tristram Hunt - who see the whole exercise as a 1980s rerun of " Reds under the Beds" and some predictable squealing from the Tory right who probably believe it should be a criminal offence to join a trade union.

But it was an intelligent assessment if you are a Tory at a time when capitalism is associated with unbelievable greed, inequality, globalisation and you are about to start an experiment with Brexit that could lead to uncertainty and an economic downturn.

For if there is another economic crisis the public- and particularly the young -could easily turn against capitalism if it continues to crush and impoverish the working class at the expense of global multi billionaires. And Jeremy Corbyn will be ready and waiting.

Halfon's pitch - which was reflected in Theresa May's speech - was basically to say unions were a good thing and should be given more power and influence in the board room. The arguments for collective bargaining were made at this meeting - and the argument that where unions and management collaborated in other countries there was more prosperity and growth for more people.

Halfon is a member of the Prospect union and the union's moderate general secretary Mike Clancy was speaking at the same meeting and telling a few home truths to Tories.

Ha, ha , you might say from the party that has just passed the most vicious anti trade union laws in Western Europe, penalised the poor and disabled ( Halfon is disabled too) and vilified people as scroungers. And it has also seen post Brexit a ferocious attack on immigration and immigrants that has led to the death of a Polish worker in Halfon's constituency.

But what we are seeing under May and Halfon is a new battle of ideas to woo ordinary workers and families. The Tory Party is once again transforming itself - away from the uber Metro Notting Hill Set of Cameron, Gove and Osborne - to Essex and Berkshire - combining an appeal to working class Essex man and middle class Berkshire woman. It always does this to maintain what it wants - to stay as the party of government.

But there is a very big elephant in the room called Brexit and in my view the conference was in total denial about it. We are going to curb immigration, tell the European Union what we want, build world wide markets for goods and services, and nobody will challenge us. Our newly trained doctors will be barred from emigrating until they have served time in the NHS, while foreign doctors will disappear from hospitals.. Our young people will spend their summers picking strawberries and hops in the UK rather than travelling - like they used to a century ago - to bar EU workers from doing the same jobs.

And any opposition from people with different.viewpoints will be silenced. No doubt we will send a gunboat to any foreign power that dares challenge us just like Palmerston in the nineteenth century.

Really? As the Daily Mail wouldn't say this week, the Tories will be living in la la land if they believe this.

#Conservative Party Conference, #Robert Halfon, #Jeremy Corbyn, #Brexit, #trade unions

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