Why I became a Conservative

I joined the party as a protest against Soviet aggression

I was surprised to read that Joel Benson, the US pollster, was urging Labour to adopt an anti-Tory toffs strategy in the general election. Putting to one side that this failed in Crewe and Nantwich, it expresses an out-of-date attitude that chimes only with the Labour Party, not British society. If you like, it is where Mary Poppins meets The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - a voice that resonates with the authenticity of Dick Van Dyke's cockney accent.

There is part of me that hopes Benson's advice will be followed, but it hardly reflects how the UK is now, or has been for decades. Society today is not bound by rigid class restraints. Whether you are a duke or a dustman, you are just as likely to watch Strictly Come Dancing. Our cultural experiences are similar and people's ability to move easily between different social gatherings has never been greater.

I have never sought to hide my working-class roots, or the fact that my family were solid Labour voters. My great-grandfather played a small part in the foundation of the Independent Labour Party in 1893 and the development of the Co-operative movement. When I joined the Conservative Party as a protest against Soviet aggression, I found all sections of Keighley society working together.

It is true that the local party chairman was a mill-owner, but he was followed by people of lower income. It did not matter whether you had a lot of money or next to nothing, we all worked together to remove an ineffectual Labour MP and a tired and discredited government.

Soon people who have never voted anything other than Labour will have a chance to vote Conservative. It is a big thing to ask, but I think they can do it in the knowledge that David Cameron's Conservative Party is steeped in social justice, and that when we tackle the budget deficit, we will keenly feel the needs of the most vulnerable parts of the country. A Conservative government under Cameron would ensure no section of society is left behind.

Eric Pickles is MP for Brentwood and Ongar and chairman of the Conservative Party

Eric Pickles is Conservative MP for Brentwood and Ongar and spokesman for Communities and Local Government

This article first appeared in the 05 October 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The tories/the people