The Oxford English Dictionary has announced its international word of the year to be “post-truth”, defining it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
2016 has indeed been the year in which the populace has talked back to the establishment. It started with Brexit, when the British public went against the grain and decided to fight their own corner. In America, Donald Trump latched on to the growing belief that Washington misunderstood the electorate, channelling Narendra Modi’s ability for mass mobilisation in the Indian election two years ago by targeting audiences through pocketbook issues. In France, Marine Le Pen’s populism is expected to take her to the final two in next year’s presidential election.
The ‘American Dream’ runs like a thread through US society. Freedom is defined not merely as the absence of barriers, but the accessibility of opportunity. For many US voters, 2016 was the year in which they abandoned their hopes and belief in post-industrial society as a vehicle of upward social mobility through hard work.
In their minds, hard work has led to nothing, while skyscrapers in distant cities continue to grow higher and shine brighter. Modern work patterns, and the photoshopped and glittery lives played out by their metropolitan contemporaries on social media, have left them behind.
Here at home it is the same, and it is why I am a Conservative, and a Bright Blue Conservative at that. Though some are privileged to reap the rewards of capitalism already, only a conscientious capitalism will truly work for everyone. We need to free up every individual to live to their full potential without barriers or exploitation, something on which Bright Blue rightly places a high value. In a multicultural Britain with a flow of people and talents, One Nation Conservatives have a crucial role to play, because creating one nation from many cultures requires good, pragmatic and conscientious government.
As the left moralise and preoccupy themselves with the idea that the best way to help the disadvantaged is through state ownership and redistribution, conscientious capitalism recognises that removing the gap between rich and poor is best achieved through economic freedom, competitive globalisation and individual empowerment.
That starts with ensuring that every child gets the best education, and that the skills people have match the jobs that are available. But at an even more basic level, it is about making sure every individual is able to access every opportunity. And that is why it was a Conservative Home Secretary, Theresa May, who put the fight against modern slavery on the agenda; that is why it is a Conservative government that is carrying out an audit of racial disparities in public services, the first of its kind; and that is why it is the Conservatives who are asking independent schools to do more to share their advantages with others.
There remain taboos which must be addressed too. That is why I am pushing for an extension of extra-territorial jurisdiction for the prosecution of so-called “honour” crimes, and for substantial reforms to, if not abolition of, Sharia councils which are so damaging to women’s rights – because opportunity must be for everyone. Bright Blue, through its human rights project, recognises how tackling discrimination and unequal treatment is key to empowerment and access to opportunity.
Populism and anti-establishment politics are the antithesis of One Nation values. We want to enable the individual, not hold them back, and to avoid populism surging even further in Britain we need to make sure that we enable every individual. Last year we were the builders; next year, we must be the enablers.
Nusrat Ghani MP is Conservative MP for Wealden. This is an article from Bright Blue’s magazine The End of the Establishment?