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Robert Halfon MP: Ed Miliband isn’t talking about Disraeli’s One Nation, and this presents Tories with a wonderful opportunity

Robert HalfonRobert Halfon is the Member of Parliament for Harlow. Follow Rob on Twitter.

I am one of those who believe that pessimism is a luxury that no Tory can allow himself. So, whilst we can watch Mr Miliband's speech and congratulate him for some political ingenuity — regarding his 'One Nation' clarion call — in practice this gives Conservatives a tremendous opportunity: a chance to reinvigorate the Big Society.

For Labour, 'One Nation' still remains another way of saying “the State”. Looking at his speech closely, Mr Miliband argues for “collective action” through the mechanisms of the State. This has been the Socialist cry through the ages; alleviate poverty through redistribution using the levers of Government. He still is arguing for a social-democratic state that robs from the rich in order to give to the poor.

Another thought: “One Nation” as expounded by Disraeli was intrinsically “Tory” — it spoke for tradition, not for its own sake, but because it provided an anchor of stability between the generations. For Labour, the '500 year old Oak Tree' is anathema because their view of “One Nation” means Year Zero.

Instead of uniting, Mr Miliband's Year Zero seeks to divide. If you have inherited wealth (except, of course, if you come from Hampstead Liberal stock), if you went to a posh school, then automatically you are placed in the category of “undesirable”. An opening for class war — and an opening, too, to create an “internal enemy” — the actions of demagogues throughout the ages, and hardly the stuff of 'One Nation'.

So, back to the Big Society. Although occasionally mangled in its delivery, the Big Society represents a real Conservative idea of One Nation. Behind these two words are the concepts that: social capital (family, community) is as important as economic capital; that people power is important as economic power (local democracy v state power); and that social entrepreneurs are as important as state entrepreneurs. Above all, it seeks to buttress and support the long traditions of British communitarianism at its best.

Conservatives have a great One Nation story to tell — and sell — it’s just not the same thing as the state. Let's reclaim it now, before it is too late.


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