Theresa May unveils newly packaged Conservative Party

There is a lot of history to be overcome

Where better than Birmingham to summon up the ghost of its mayor Joseph Chamberlain? “Radical Joe” had in late Victorian Britain made the city a symbol of great municipal government, pioneering reform of education and health for the working classes. A Liberal, he joined the Tories to champion social reform, warning Britain’s ruling class that it must embrace change or be pushed aside. “What ransom,” he asked of the cost of welfare, “will property pay for the security which it enjoys?”

"We're all Conservatives here," prime minister Theresa May, told the Tory Party conference in the city yesterday, echoing Chamberlain. "We all believe in a low-tax economy. But we also know that tax is the price we pay for living in a civilised society."

Her message, the antithesis of Thatcher, who will be turning in her grave – there is such a thing as society, it is right for Government to use its powers for the public good by intervening in “dysfunctional” markets and supporting key industries. “The central tenet of my belief is that there is more to life than individualism and self-interest,” she said.

Determined to demonstrate that her government is not a one-trick, Brexit pony, she nevertheless framed her rebranding of the party – now "truly the party of the workers" – as a direct response to that vote, not just a desire to quit the EU but a "deep, profound and ... justified" sense that the world works for a privileged few but not for ordinary working-class people." And she laid in to bad employers and companies that don't pay their fair share of tax or asset strip. All power to ordinary shareholders....


It’s probably not what the radical rightwingers who dominate Tory backbenches wanted to hear. And, no doubt, she will have added to the discomfort in Labour’s ranks in disarray. “Radical Joe” would have approved. But whether the British working classes will buy the newly packaged Tories is another matter. There’s a lot of history to overcome.