By Ciara Finlay
When I came to Trinity in 2006 to read Sociology and Social Policy for my undergrad I was your stereotypical lefty student. I wore hippy blouses with ripped jeans, I used the words ‘fairness’ and ‘justice’ like they were sitcom catchphrases. I was determined to change the world, and having grown up in France I believed that a good revolution was the ideal path to reform.
In my first Social Policy lecture Margaret Thatcher was quoted as saying “there is no such thing as society”, and I thought to myself “what a wench! Is this really what Conservatives think?” Once there was agreement that society did indeed exist we set about debating the issues.
First and foremost there was the matter of “Equity vs. Equality”. We talked about trying to ‘level the playing field’. Equality meant giving everyone equal benefits – that should we give resources to those who need them. Liberty and equity were about equality of opportunity. About giving people a choice, as they knew best what was in their own personal interest. This question led to another, and while some of my friends asked themselves “am I gay?”, I asked myself, “am I Conservative?” Now, I have answered this question for myself, and am coming out as a Conservative.
Admittedly, I did spend some time on the fence. Blair as the heir to Thatcher had represented my beliefs with surprising accuracy, and so it was not until David Cameron took centre stage that my allegiance was won over. When friends expressed their political crush on Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg I scoffed them off. However, the election of 6 May proved that we were both over-confident. Nevertheless, the generous offer to form a coalition by the new Prime Minister was eventually accepted by the soon-to-be Deputy Prime Minster Clegg.
The next milestone was the June Budget and our first sense of what was yet to come. Chancellor George Osborne assured us that the NHS was safe with us, as Baroness Thatcher had once promised during the so-called welfare state crisis of the 1970s. However, cuts needed to be made and were going to be made. It was time for a new kind of revolution, that of the Big Society. The Prime Minister, addressing the party conference on 7 October in Birmingham, reminded us that the big ideas still mattered. Notably, the idea of the Big Society, and the small state in which power is taken from the bureaucrats and entrusted into the hands of the people. Furthermore, fairness featured heavily in his address. This is not the fairness of the Labour party with its hand-outs, but rather a variety which seeks to tackle the root cause of what is unfair. “Society is not a spectator sport … citizenship isn’t a transaction … it’s a relationship” the Prime Minister declared reminding voters that we all ought to do our duty ‘in the national interest’.
In this spirit George Osborne announced on 5 October that child-benefit was to be cut for high-rate taxpayers, starting in 2013. He was met by a multitude of reactions. Many cited the 1942 Beveridge Report in defence of child benefit, but this is a mischaracterisation not only of the report, but also of what it sought to achieve through its implementation. Namely, to rid Britain of the ‘Five Giants’: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. The Conservative party are explicitly committed to dealing with all of these and so, I was brought back to that question of equity and equality. That question had also cropped up around the matter of universal child benefit. I believed then as I do now that in theory it is a good idea, but, when there are limited resources we must reach out to those who need it most.
Citizenship is a relationship between the people and their government, and between the members of the society of which we are all part. I believe in the Big Society, in the value of liberty and in government’s need to have a real relationship with people. That is why I am a Conservative, and should the worst happen, we could always go ‘on a break’.