I have written an article for Crossbow magazine which has been published at the Conservative Party conference by the Bow Group.
I've included the text of the article below.
At the base of a cross in the former St John’s churchyard in central Manchester lies the small memorial of a man who arguably helped to create the modern game of football and the sporting world. Yet he was not a sportsman or administrator but instead a campaigner in local government. William Marsden, the memorial records, was the man who ‘originated the Saturday half holiday’ that for the first time gave Manchester mill workers the chance to enjoy leisure time. This act by Marsden in the early 1840s was an early blow in a movement that ultimately meant working people could devote time to the pursuits that had previously been the preserve of the gentry. Without the Saturday half holiday, working men would not have had the chance to eat and change before kicking off a football match at 3pm. Spectators would not have had the time to watch these games being played.
Many people believed that workers would not use their spare time constructively, but would instead spend it drinking and loafing around. Instead of this many joined the works football teams were created, like the railwaymen from Newton Heath who formed the club that went on to become Manchester United. The Saturday half holiday also gave birth to other clubs and associations for sports like cricket and athletics, and created the demand for recreational parks in the towns and cities.
All of this evolved over time and was driven by local initiative. There was no Government plan for the creation of sports clubs, national targets for the number of balls to be hit every week or pathfinder funding for facilities. People like William Marsden believed that just by giving people time and opportunity they could create something worthwhile.
The monuments of the Victorian age, great and small, mark endeavour, heroism and invention. Out of that age stretched an arc of progress into the modern world where through access to education, leisure and better housing more opportunity was extended to more people in our society. In the period of my childhood, during the years of Margaret Thatcher’s government, we saw that opportunity extended further through popularising home ownership and giving individual workers greater freedoms in the face of union power.
I recently attended an event organised by Republicans Abroad where former White House Press Secretary Dana Perrino asked people to recall when it was that realised that they were a Conservative. For me it was born in that time, seeing Conservatism closely allied to those who had aspiration and desired opportunity. What always appalled me about communism was the way is sort to strangle the human spirit and deny people the opportunity to follow their talents and enjoy the rewards that could come their way through their work.
So when we look again at the monuments of that Victorian age, and the ages of aspiration and progress that followed, you ask yourself what the monuments will be to the brave new world we find ourselves in today.
In Aldous Huxley’s famous book, the brave new world was ordered into a series of highly controlled social strata. The only way you could join the Alpha group, was to be born into it. If you were in the bottom tier, you stayed their all your life. People in the alpha tier worked harder but also enjoyed better health and physical appearance. People in the middle tiers were told to be happy, rather like Ronnie Barker, that they still had people they could look down on, and could enjoy not having to work as hard as the Alphas.
Whilst such a world remains within the realm of science fiction, we should be alarmed that social mobility and progress is declining in our country – at a time when no Government has ever spent more on policies it has claimed will achieve the opposite result. The monument to Gordon Brown’s Labour Government should be built to mark the growing inability of people to escape poverty and the decline in academic achievement of students from poorer backgrounds. A recent study has shown that in the UK, more than other developed countries, there is the greatest correlation between students test scores at the age of 13 and the social profile of their families.
We also have the growing problem of worklessness; a growing culture where in some communities work has become an option rather than a real requirement and millions of people have been condemned to a life living on benefits. As was recently reported, the latest census information shows that two million working age people in Britain have never worked. In some of our most deprived communities the level or worklessness even before the recession was over 40%. ‘O brave new world that has such people in it.’
There will be no quick fix to these problems, but we must ensure that at the heart of our policies progress, aspiration and opportunity are working to deliver a better society for all.