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Not the Squeezed Middle... but Sid's heirs (Part Two)

By Paul Goodman

To resume from Wednesday:

  • This group overlaps significantly with the C1s and C2s.
  • "Sid's heirs" is a better description of the people concerned than "The Squeezed Middle" - at least if one wants to get Conservatives thinking about policies that appeal to them.  They're very likely to own their own homes, likely to work in white collar or skilled manual jobs, and use public services.
  • Polling tells us many things about this group, but an Open Left survey of voters who deserted Labour Labour at the last election may come in useful (of which more later).

In my view, the Tories should strive to deliver the following five outcomes in particular for these voters (and others) over the course of this Parliament -

  • Less immigration.  The Open Left survey found that 41 per cent of C2s said that Britain should limit the number of people coming to work here.  That figure fell to 31 per cent of C1s (and 25 per cent of ABs).  A key point is the effect of Labour's abandonment of control - deliberately but covertly done for ideological reasons - on public services: hospitals, social services, transport, housing and schools.  As Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatch wrote recently: "We must get net immigration down from 196,000 to about 40,000 a year if we are to stabilise our population at about 67 million compared to 62 million today".  David Cameron must deliver on his intention of reducing immigration to tens of thousands from hundreds of thousands.
  • More homes.  The C2s in particular gained from the Thatcher housing reforms, gaining the chance to buy their own home off the Council.  But Sid's heirs are being squeezed out of early home ownership.  As Boris Johnson pointed out recently, the average age of a first-time buyer was 23 during the height of the '80s boom": now, it is 37.  The Government needs to increase the supply of homes, thus helping to ensure that their value rises steadily and sustainably, rather than lurching from boom-to-bust bubbles we've seen all too often.  Policy Exchange has a long-time interest in the subject, and Neil O'Brien set out some ideas here.
  • More places in good schools.  The children of richer parents go to private schools.  Those of poorer ones will get the pupil premium.  At some point fairly soon, results will get worse as exams get more rigorous - producing bad headlines for Michael Gove.  So the Education Secretary has to prove that middle income families will benefit from his reforms, and that they're not just targeted at those failed most spectacularly by what Chris Woodhead calls "The Blob".  Free schools, brought into being from below by new providers, are only part of the answer.  School discipline, better teachers, the teaching of synthetic phonics, a slimmed-down national curriculum - all these are vital, and dependent on drive from the top.
  • Cuts in the standard rate of tax.  Sid's heirs use public services and pay tax.  Labour will always be able to make an appeal in the former territory, but are far less well placed in the latter.  The Coalition has an income tax problem.  Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats are up for raising thresholds to help poorer taxpayers in particular.  However, hey seem to have set themselves resolutely against cuts in the 50p and 40p rate.  This is a big medium-term problem for incentives to earn, get on and create wealth.  But middle income families - even those at the top end of the range - are some way off the top rate.  I see no reason why Cable and the Conservatives shouldn't agree that cuts in the standard rate, made when the deficit's reduced, will help the economy in general and hard-pressed workers in particular.
  • Share sales.  The British Gas share sale of 1986 was the source of the original "Tell Sid" advertising campaign.  As I pointed out in my last piece on the "Squeezed Middle", the Treasury is already on the case, examining the case for bank and post office sales, and a revival of "popular capitalism".  The Adam Smith Institute wants to add Network Rail, NATS, the larger Trust Ports, the Met Office, the Royal Mint, Ordnance Survey, Channel 4, the Tote "and in time British Waterways" (and so on).  I'm not sure about all of these sales - and not all of them would necessarily involve shares - but there must be scope for the Government to help eliminate the structural deficit and spur a new generation of share owners via sales.

Finally, Sid's heirs need a champion in the Cabinet.  The Thatcher Governments had plenty - Norman Tebbit and the Prime Minister herself; Michael Heseltine (who oversaw the early council house sales) and Peter Walker - who, despite his left-of-Tory-centre politics, didn't share the privileged background of many of his fellow Cabinet Ministers.

It's hard to see who their successors are in the present Cabinet (Eric Pickles?) - though George Osborne, as James Forsyth has written here and here, has grasped the importance of scaling back Gordon Brown's welfare empire and privatising state assets.  Should the Prime Minister be talent-spotting outside the Cabinet for MPs with more of a line to Sid's Heir's?

Mark Francois?  Someone decent and solid, such as David Gauke?  Mark Prisk?  Someone from the outside, such as Priti Patel?  Is looking for someone the wrong thing to do, anyway?  Whatever became of David Davis's taskforce on social mobility?


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