Martin Bailey: Why I am a Conservative

Give us the child for 8 years and it will be a Bolshevik forever.

V. I. Lenin

I was brought up in a solid, socialist household. Both of my parents were Labour Party members and trade union activists, who even flirted with the Militant tendency in the bitter aftermath of the Miners’ strike.

We had one of those cheap, East German plaques of Lenin on the telly (which was never on ITV…except, of course, for Corrie), Margaret Thatcher was the living incarnation of Satan and I wasn’t allowed to listen to ‘Queen’ because they had played Sun City (Although my mum was a bit ‘Off Message’ when it came to Rod Stewart).

I interpreted the whole world from a fuzzy Marxist perspective. Growing up in South West Wales this perspective was never challenged. There simply was no opposing narrative, no alternative explanation for the world.

All of human history, development and achievement was nothing more than the ancient struggle of the working classes against exploitation by those with land, wealth and power. Everybody I knew subscribed to this world view, some with a Welsh nationalist flavour but with little deviation from the central tenet – Rich men, bad. Poor men, good.

The singular devotion to this world view left me utterly unprepared for life outside of the parochial confines of rural Carmarthenshire, especially the rigours of higher education. Through my comprehensive secondary education I had learnt by rote the dogmatic tropes of the Left and when I arrived at The University of Bristol in October 1998 I was completely incapable of engaging with people of opposing views, I simply could not stomach coming into contact with an alternative.

I would shut down any debate instantly either with humour or, more often, abuse. Ever since I left Wales I struggled to reconcile socialism with the world I saw around me. I struggled to shoehorn what I saw into my narrow understanding of society.

Last year I chose to end this struggle and to shift my political allegiance to the right. Now I don’t struggle to justify my views, they just feel natural.

My family’s involvement with the scandal at Mid Staffs Hospital was obviously a contributory factor, probably even the catalyst for this change. However it would be wrong to attribute my conversion solely to this.

I voted Labour in 2010 even as the Left was publicly defaming my mother and even as she was pleading to me that The Labour Party was responsible for my nan’s death. But the bond of devotion was impossible to break, as strong as that of any religious cult.

The Mid Staffs tragedy certainly changed my opinion of the Labour Party and the vicious way it treats any dissent. This was the first time I had been confronted by just how warped my view of the world really was. My Nan died in Mid Staffs hospital neglected by the very people who were there to care for her. Nurses, doctors, health workers – paid up union members, foot soldiers of the Labour empire.

That her death was caused by Labour Party doctrine hurts but not as much as the denial, coercion and cover up that followed. I had been brought up with the unquestionable belief that Labour was an overwhelming force for good, yet here was evidence staring me in the face that this was not the case.

The Labour party was not looking out for the common man – it didn’t care whether he lived or died as long as he put his X in the right place and kept his mouth shut. My Mother’s reward for her efforts was to be driven out of her hometown by threats and intimidation which included relentless, vicious online abuse.

It’s interesting to note that some of her most virulent trolls were amongst the 140 doctors who signed the letter published in the Guardian before the election claiming the coalition had ‘Undermined’ the NHS. The same names crop up again and again, still divorced from reality just and slavishly towing the party line.

It doesn’t matter whether the mud they sling is true or not, once it has appeared online it’s fixed in people’s minds. Kate Godfrey, the defeated Labour Candidate for Stafford, posted a link on her twitter feed to a hate-blog that alleged my mum had bogus social work qualifications, even alerting Staffordshire police. Her accusation is, of course, complete garbage. I should know I was there, a proud son watching my mum, who had left school at 15 with no qualifications, accept her diploma at Swansea University.

But the smear remains, the damage is done. We wait patiently for her apology.

Even though the Left was at war with my own family I still supported it, I still couldn’t break free, the brainwashing was too complete. It took another 6 years for me to finally escape. But the first chink in the narrative had appeared for me and it gave me a freedom to question some of my core beliefs in a way that I never had.

I was exposed to sections of the media that I would otherwise never have come into contact with. I would have scoffed at the very idea of reading The Daily Mail or The Telegraph but these were the papers supporting – even campaigning – for my mum, who I knew was telling the truth. Whereas the left wing media was giving airtime and column inches to people I knew were crooked. I would read The Telegraph secretly, behind a locked door, like a schoolboy with a dirty book.

Of course socialism is more than just the Labour Party and while I had drifted from loyal obedience to the party leadership I was still a long way from conservatism. My journey to the right really began while I was living in Abu Dhabi. To the rest of the world the United Arab Emirates is an oasis of trade, technology and tolerance in the heart of the Muslim world. A global centre for tourism, business and culture.

In reality it is a gaudy, pretentious mirage. An absolute monarchy built on slavery and racism. The UAE was repugnant to me but I stayed for my family, hoping to secure a better future than I could in the UK. An unexpected benefit of living abroad was the opportunity to see the UK from an outsider’s perspective.

While in Abu Dhabi I saw first-hand a level of poverty that I couldn’t even begin to describe. Thousands, millions of migrant workers, slaving for over 12 hours a day in temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius for 6 days a week. Seeing these Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Nepalis breaking their backs, day-in day-out, earning less per month than I did per day, I couldn’t help but consider the lot of the British working class…and just how lucky they are.

Unemployment benefit for a single person over the age of 25, the bare minimum on which anyone has to survive, is sixty five pounds per week. Is that enough to live on? Yes, it is. Could I manage on this? Yes, I could. In fact I have. Sometimes I still do. OK, so on 65 quid a week I wasn’t living it up but it was enough to cover the costs of food, clothing and heating for a week.

There is also a range of state benefits available, help with energy costs for example, which a cursory internet search can find in seconds. The UK is an extremely generous nation and this is something of which I am extremely proud. Nobody is refused assistance who needs it, there is help available for all and this is something that I will passionately support for the rest of my life.

You can accuse me of a ‘Race to the Bottom’ by comparing the UAE slaves to the British unemployed but that’s not my point, my point is that UK citizens are provided with the basic means of survival as of right. Billions of people across the world do not enjoy that luxury. It’s not a comparison, the disparity, the inequality, is so vast it renders comparison meaningless.

The British unemployed are more easily compared to premiership footballers and Hollywood movie stars than to the migrant workers of the Arab world.

The news is awash with stories of food banks and children turning up at school in December without coats or breakfast. The question is, who is responsible, the state or the parents?  My answer is as unpalatable as it is true. If you are standing in the queue at a food bank with an I-phone in your hand, there is something wrong. If your child goes to school hungry yet you have Sky TV, there is something wrong. If you are paying half your giro to Wonga for an X-Box you bought last Christmas, there is something wrong.

I don’t blame people for wanting more. When I was younger I remember how jealous I felt that my friends had a full range of Thundercats and Transformers while I had my cousin’s Star Wars and Evel Kneivel hand me downs. My mum remembers me spending hours looking in the Argos catalogue at toys I would never have. It is natural to want more, to want better, it is a crucial stimulus to development, but it is not for the state to satisfy this through the welfare budget. Welfare is there to provide a safety net through which we will not let people fall not to cater to the whims of desire.

I may never have had an Optimus Prime but I also never went to school cold or hungry.

Dependency on the state is a barrier to leading a free, happy and fulfilling life. As a society we now depend on the state in ways our grandparents would never have imagined. This is not progress. We have neglected far more robust and effective support systems, namely our families and local communities, in the belief that state support supersedes these. The state is good at many things, defence and law and order, for example, but in crucial areas of social support it is a poor substitute for our own families and the communities in which we live.

In this way our dependency on the state has exacerbated some of our most serious social problems as people are excused responsibility for their actions and it has stunted creativity and innovation in countless areas as people no longer have to provide for themselves.

Abu Dhabi also showed me the corrosive effects of state dependency. I worked in the state sector for the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) teaching English to classes half Emirati, half Arab Expat. It was a struggle to get some of my Emirati students to even lift a pen. Why would they? They could fail every exam they ever sat and still get a cushy, government job stamping documents for a couple of hours a day for twice as much money as I was getting paid, plus a free 6 bed villa.

The tragedy was that these students sat in the same class as Jordanian, Syrian and Egyptian boys who studied as if their lives depended on it, struggling for a better life without the privilege of Emirati ancestry. ADEC makes many statistical claims about the improvement in student attainment and how they now rival the West but these claims are utterly hollow. I had 19, 20 and even 21 year old students who could not even write their own names, yet I was expected to give them marks of 80%.

The emirate is pouring millions of pounds into ADEC in the mistaken belief that it will drag the country into the 21st century. From what I saw it is a complete waste of money. The lack of accountability, transparency and leadership in a bloated government bureacracy reminded me instantly of Labour’s NHS.

Baroness Jenkin, the Conservative peer, said last year that the poor were using food banks because they didn’t know how to cook. She was pilloried, torn to shreds by every side. Which is all the more astonishing as everybody knows, deep down, that she is absolutely right. But you simply can’t say this in public.

The truth is that if people could manage a household budget better, food banks would disappear. This is not an incendiary point, it is a fact. That someone should be so publicly lambasted for pointing this out is further evidence of how far the tentacles of the Labour leviathan reach. They even control what we are allowed to say, the language we are allowed to use and the topics we are allowed to discuss.

This is not a cliché, right wing attack on ‘Political Correctness’. No, I am against the way the Left simply shuts down debate and reduces issues to binary prejudices. You want to discuss immigration? You’re a racist! You want to discuss welfare reform? You’re stealing from the poor! You want to explore funding options for the NHS? You’re privatising it!

We allow the Left to set the rules before the discourse has even started, therefore the debate is rigged in their favour every time. This enables the Labour party to twist and distort the truth to suit its own purposes. As far as I am concerned the Labour Party has managed to pull off the biggest con-trick in the history of mankind – convincing the British public that they alone can be trusted with the NHS.

That the public can have any trust in the party that caused the Mid Staffs, Morecambe Bay and Lincolnshire scandals  (to name but a few) is an act of psychological trickery worthy of Derren Brown himself.

They can whip the public into a frenzy with the very mention of privatisation. It’s a scaremongering smokescreen that distracts people from Labour’s appalling record on patient safety which is the real issue facing the NHS. The truth is that as long as the public wants an NHS where care is free at the point of delivery that is exactly what the government, of any hue, will provide.

The idea that the Tories could ride roughshod over public opinion and privatise the NHS is laughable. It would be the biggest act of electoral suicide since their opposition to the Corn Laws, they would be in the political wasteland for generations. It is an ironic fact that the only party that could ever privatise the NHS is Labour. Whilst in office they did so to around 4% of it and still they attract votes from zombies who blindly vote for them on the NHS without actually looking at their policies or their track record. They’re the only ones who could ever actually get away with privatisation.

I fully support the concept of a redistributive taxation system to support public services, this is the only responsible way for a state to function. However, unless you believe we should all earn the same no matter what job we do, you must accept that there is a point at which the rich are paying too much.

I believe we have reached and breached that point. Corbynites never tire of telling me the rich aren’t paying their fair share but in reality it is the rich who prop up the entire country. The top 0.01% of tax payers pay more than 4% of total income tax revenues and the top 10% pay 55%. That means the top 3,000 earners pay as much tax as the bottom 9 million (out of 29.9 million income tax payers).

There has to be a point at which we accept that the rich are paying enough, yet the anti-wealth rhetoric from the Left suggests they will never, ever be satisfied. As Orwell might have said, if you want a picture of a Corbyn government imagine a boot stamping on a rich man’s face…for 5 years.

It’s brutal, sadistic and can never be considered part of a fair society. For me a fair society is one in which the pathways and opportunities to success are open to all, not one in which people who have achieved and excelled are stigmatized and hounded. I believe in a society of equal opportunities, not one of equal earnings.

There are many things I disagree with that are expressed both by the Conservative Party itself and conservatives that I have met but I feel in our disagreement there is a level of respect and tolerance that is absent on the Left. A lack of rigid dogmatism and disdain that is as refreshing as it is necessary.

I believe in individual liberty, ambition, enterprise, innovation, development, community, family, fair taxation, a reduced state and opportunity for all.

Sorry, Lenin. It looks like I’m the one that got away!


 Martin is a lifelong Socialist who saw the error of his ways, making a sharp right turn. Follow him on Twitter: @righturn79

This article is part of our ongoing ‘Why I am a Conservative’ series, in which supporters of CfL talk about their beliefs and values. If you would like to take part please email blog@con4lib.

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty