As the Conservative Party conference drew to a close in Manchester, it was apparent that the message the Tories wished to drive home above all else is this: levelling up to ensure the working-class communities and areas which have been overlooked and neglected for so long now have access to their rightful opportunities in a post-Brexit Britain. After all, it is these communities that handed the Tories their remarkable win in 2019, with the party snatching seats away from Labour in places such as Redcar and Bishop Auckland courtesy of discontented working-class voters. These voters placed what remained of their dwindling political faith in Boris Johnson and his promise to ‘get Brexit done’ and thereby ‘unleash the potential of our whole country’. This was to be achieved through investment in public services, controls on immigration and return of employment to forgotten areas; actions purported to have been ignored by successive governments, the European bureaucracy and indeed the current Labour Party.
However, nearly two years after their general election victory, recent circumstances suggest the Conservatives are running the risk of appearing too out of touch with the very groups that elected them and whom the Tories have vowed to heavily invest in. When asked about matters such as supply chain problems, rising inflation, petrol queues and food shortages, the Prime Minister suggested he was “not worried” despite the obvious ramifications of these issues for millions of ordinary people. This seemingly indifferent attitude to everyday concerns is highlighted by the PM’s recent assertion that “it’s not the government’s job to come in and try and fix every problem in business and industry”. This is a far cry from the governments interventionist and top-down approach during much of the pandemic, as it ostensibly appears to be taking a more hands-off approach despite these issues developing generally as a result of its own Covid-19 policies. Whilst the government may not be experiencing widespread discontent over this inaction, feelings could quickly shift as higher gas bills, more expensive shopping, and fuel shortages cause people to point the finger at a government that chose not to intervene despite the mantra of ‘levelling up’.
It is not only this increasingly casual approach to everyday concerns that risks alienating the Tories from their new voting bases and the wider public. Recent revelations in the Pandora papers portray quite a different image of the Conservatives to the allegedly new party of the working class that broke ordinary people free from the aloof and metropolitan shackles of elitist Labour. These new leaks exposed how various wealthy foreign donors with links to corruption have contributed millions to the Tory Party. One such example includes Mohamed Amersi, a major donor to Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign who was involved in a $220 million “bribe” given to the daughter of the former president of Uzbekistan. Questions have also arisen over the millions donated by Lubov Chernukhin whose wealth, along with her former Russian minister husband Vladimir, is linked to various offshore companies that manage their vast UK property empire. Lubov’s donations of more than £1.8 million since 2012 have granted her exclusive access to individuals high up in the Conservative Party. These donations, unless returned as suggested by some figures in Labour, may further contribute to the image of a Conservative Party that is disconnected, elitist and accessible only to the very wealthiest in society. Inaction and turning a blind eye to the nature of these contributions seem to fit within a wider current pattern of Tory complacency and self-assuredness that pressing issues simply have a way of solving themselves out.
Whilst it is true that the Conservatives are not suffering the consequences of their inaction on these issues as indicated by recent polling, there is a possibility that growing everyday worries faced by the public will gradually come back to haunt the government. Whilst the PM may have joked and entertained in his conference speech that saw only one new policy announced, many voters in his new working-class constituencies certainly won’t be laughing if the cost of their gas bill and shopping continues to rise. If the Tories become too complacent with such issues that matter to ordinary people, they run the risk of appearing no different to all the other institutions that supposedly neglected communities in the north and elsewhere before this government was elected. For the Tories it seems two paths lay ahead; either address rising everyday concerns in line with the mantra of ‘levelling up’ or continue on its current laissez-faire course and risk looking like another out of touch party with no interest in the lives of regular people.