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You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer

By Tim Montgomerie

I'm disappointed to read on LeftFootForward that eleven Tory MPs have signed 'The Equality Pledge' that includes these words, "I will therefore actively support the case for policies designed to narrow the gap between rich and poor". The eleven egalitarians on the blue benches are:

  1. Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West & Abingdon);
  2. Nick de Bois (Enfield North);
  3. Jane Ellison (Battersea);
  4. Mike Freer (Finchley & Golders Green);
  5. Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park);
  6. Richard Graham (Gloucester);
  7. Ben Gummer (Ipswich);
  8. Richard Harrington (Watford);
  9. Richard Ottaway (Croydon South);
  10. Claire Perry (Devizes); and
  11. Lee Scott (Ilford North).

For me compassionate conservatism should have three main ingredients:

  • The core of compassionate conservatism should be the three pathways out of poverty that I discussed on Tuesday: (1) educating the young; (2) supporting the family and (3) encouraging work. If we get these things right (and Labour allowed Britain to retreat on all three fronts) we can radically improve the next generation's lives.
  • There should then be two safety-nets:
  • A major role for government in providing a minimum income for all, particularly the old, sick and disabled.
  • A nurturing of third sector institutions that build 'the nation of the second chance' - a network of voluntary, faith-based and mentoring groups that help people overcome addiction, debt or other great adversities in life. Cameron calls it The Big Society.
  • Outside of Britain I also support the Coalition's solid policy on international aid but hope that we'll focus a lot of political energy on fighting the protectionism and environmental imperialism that most threatens the prosperity of developing nations (and therefore their capacity to manage extreme weather events and improve the health of their people).

I'm worried about this idea that conservatives should actively support policies that narrow the gap between rich and poor but before rushing to judgment I wonder what the eleven signatories had in mind? Are they thinking of equality of opportunity policies that might naturally, but not necessarily, reduce inequality. I hope they will seize an early opportunity to reject income caps and confiscatory taxes that the many Left-wing MPs who signed the pledge probably envisage. Such policies may produce more inequality but I fear they would also produce a poorer, greyer and jobless Britain.

CLARK-LARGE-NEW Last week The Times (£) reported that some of America's richest people had voluntarily decided to give half of their huge fortunes to good causes. As a follower of Wesley's 'earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can' dictum I applaud that. When he was pursuing charitable sector policy for the Conservatives in opposition Greg Clark MP noted that 7% of British people accounted for 49% of all charitable giving. If we could get nearly every Briton giving just 1% of their income to good causes we could strengthen the charitable sector by £3 to £4bn each year. See this box for more on Greg's thinking in this area.

A final set of thoughts for those eleven Tory MPs. They are words that encapsulate what it means to be on the Right of the political spectrum. Written not by Abraham Lincoln, as Ronald Reagan suggested when he popularised them, but by the Revd William Boechter. His 'Ten Cannots' set out ten great aims and warn of the false paths to achieving them:

“You cannot bring prosperity by discouraging thrift.

You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.

You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.

You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.

You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.

You cannot further brotherhood of men by inciting class hatred.

You cannot establish security on borrowed money.

You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.

You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”

24th August: Nick de Bois MP defends his decision to sign the pledge.


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