We are all aware of the efforts of David Cameron to ‘detoxify’ the Conservative Party from its ‘nasty party’ image. Prior to the general election he was hugging a hoodie, hugging a husky and even hugging hospitals. The election result shows public opinion of these efforts were inconclusive. I always believed despite there being some good people amongst Conservative ranks, the Conservative Party was still a nasty party.
At a local level we see examples of this every day. According to The Press, York Tory Councillor Chris Steward has said there is no real poverty in Britain and people should not donate to food banks. He went onto say “the fact some give food to food banks, merely enables people who can’t budget… or don’t want to, to have more money to spend on alcohol, cigarettes etc.” and that “there is certainly no need for food banks”. His comments have received widespread derision on Huffington Post and Political Scrapbook.
The Guardian has printed about how important food banks are for many families in Cameron’s Britain and it is ironic that in November 2010, York Conservatives opposed the loss of taxpayer subsidised sandwiches for themselves. York Tory Group Leader, Councillor Ian Gillies at the time went so far as saying “I said if you are going to save the money, then fair enough but if you are going to spend it on something else then we want the food”.
On Thursday 8th October 2009, David Cameron stood upon the stage of Manchester Central at his party conference. He spoke directly to us, the Labour Party, and said “it falls to us, the modern Conservative party to fight for the poorest who you have let down.” I am not sure how Councillor Chris Steward’s views tally with this notion.
My Deputy, Councillor Tracey Simpson-Laing is writing to David Cameron to seek assurances Councillor Chris Steward’s views are not shared by the Conservative Party – although The Mirror recently printed David Cameron snubbed an invitation to visit a food bank. A petition is being set up online calling for City of York Council to censure Councillor Chris Steward for his comments. If 1,000 people sign the petition there will be a full council debate on the issue.
This is not the first time Councillor Chris Steward (who works as a stockbroker) has shrouded himself in controversy. In February last year he was criticised by ‘York Stop the Cuts’ for ‘quoffing’ champagne with Conservative Future as a ‘drink to cuts’. Recently he came out against the Labour-led Council I lead for implementing the Living Wage. He said it was the “the wrong thing to do” adding Council staff already had ‘perks’ like pensions.
Owen Jones recently brought to my attention an interview with Margaret Thatcher in the Catholic Herald from December 1978. Thatcher said, “Nowadays there really is no primary poverty left in this country” and added “all right, there may be poverty because people don’t know how to budget, don’t know how to spend their earnings, but now you are left with the really hard fundamental character—personality defect.”
Sound familiar? The nasty party never went away.
James Alexander is the Labour Leader of City of York Council