Saturday, November 25, 2006

Conservatism may still be strong…

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by David Cameron’s poverty speech. Reading between the lines it would appear, and I may be wrong, that Mr. Cameron is true blue, through and through. The speech is couched as one would expect in the ‘arms around the world’ language which currently appeals to the electorate. However if I were to identify a central theme it would be that power should move away from the state and into the hands of individuals. For example:

The poverty-fighting agenda I have outlined today is a radical one for my Party, because for the first time it commits us to tackling relative, not just absolute poverty. But it is also a radical agenda for politics in this country, because it involves a dramatic decentralisation, a big shift in emphasis… …from the state to society.

And also:

Throughout Britain there is a yearning for more control and more responsibility. People are fed up with having their communities managed for them by the state – especially when they are often managed so badly.

Furthermore the following extract contains a number of signals, albeit ones couched in vague terms, that conservatism is strong in Camp Cameron:

I know full well how important funding is. The task is to ensure that money goes where it’s needed and where it will make the most difference. Of course, some may fear that state funding of smaller, local organisations will crush the independence and flexibility that makes them effective in the first place.

Well, it depends on the state’s attitude. It depends on how the funding works and how the contracts are managed. There’s no reason to think that state funding automatically damages a local organisation. We need to be more trusting, more open to risk. [Note that Cameron indicates the need to change the way state funding works, without committing to any specific change]

That way we will avoid the voluntary and social enterprise sectors becoming indistinguishable branches of the state. Finally, some ask whether there is enough capacity in the voluntary sector to do the job. The straight answer is – no, not yet. That’s why I will never pretend that the big shift from state to society can be achieved overnight. [Clearly a big shift from state to ‘society’ is intended. However Cameron quite sensibly accepts that such a change will take time; the length of time however is sidestepped]

But I am supremely confident that as we allow communities to take over responsibilities for their own neighbourhoods… …as we change the funding system to reward creativity and innovation… …we will witness a fantastic flowering of social enterprise, the like of which we cannot even imagine today. [A clear reference to Cameron’s intention to devolve power form the state to the individual]

For years, we Conservatives talked about rolling back the state. But that is not an end in itself. Our fundamental aim is to roll forward the frontiers of society. We understand that a strong society means moving forward together, no-one left behind, fighting relative poverty a central policy goal. [The rolling back of the state may not be seen as an end in itself, but Cameron clearly believes it is a fundamental goal of the Conservative Party]

In short, my previous concerns may have been misplaced, or perhaps overstated. Cameron may yet prove himself to be the conservative leader our country so desperately needs; time will tell.

It is worth adding of course that the poverty speech was not pleasing in its entirety. A tendency toward overregulation was still present:

…at our Debt Summit on Monday we announced a range of policy proposals to help address the issue, including: Tighter rules on the marketing of Individual Voluntary Agreements… Ensuring that home credit companies are subject to the same data sharing requirements as mainstream lenders… Requiring credit card companies to provide clearer information on repayment terms… And a cooling-off period for store cards.

What about personal responsibility?

Despite this hint at overregulation the speech may have provided us with a unique view of Cameron’s Britain. And contrary to the prevailing wisdom, it may yet turn out to be a very conservative Britain indeed. Let’s hope that is the case.


Wat Tyler said...

I think poverty is one of the most difficult issues we Tories face. On reforming public services we can see a clear way forward through choice and competion. and on criminal justice we can at least see as far as locally elected sheriffs.

But how to tackle poverty is much more problematic, and finds us much less united.

Like you, I'm freaked by the use of Pol to headline this debate, but in terms of the substance (such as it is), there seems less cause for alarm. We must hope we can get the discussion nudged in the right direction.

towcestarian said...

Mr Wilderness

I fear you are deluding yourself about the "acceptability" of this speech. A government policy for "tackling relative poverty" can only ever be redistributive, there really is no other viable mechanism. So the tories are now starting to embrace the concept of a large welfare state, which in my view is what is currently perpetuating the poverty.

Had he instead talked about improving social mobility and increasing opportunity rather than dragging in the "p" word, he would have been on firmer ground.

If you want more proof of the unacceptable direction of the party, look no further than the 35 hr week nonsense in todays papers.

Tory in the Wilderness said...

Thanks for the comment Towcestarian.

I would argue that private charity could provide the answer to poverty, and would be a viable alternative to state redistribution. As Barry Goldwater said there is a difference between believing something should be done, and believing that it should be done by government. In my opinion, and I admit I am not yet fully convinced, Cameron’s speech is fundamentally conservative.

With regard to the 35 hour week thing I take issue with the fact we are investigating it (it is after all a fundamentally un-conservative idea). However I would add that investigating is fundamentally different from implementing. By 'investigating' the possibility of an enforced 35 hour working week, the party can draw in votes from the large number of the electorate who would find the prospect of fewer working hours appealing, whilst not having to actually deliver a regulation reducing the working week to 35 hours.