The EPP announcement means I’ve only just caught up with yesterday’s David Cameron speech on community.  It’s very good.  David Cameron attempts to triangulate himself between ‘the extremes’ of Polly Toynbee and Simon Heffer.  Both of them are too obsessed with the state, he thinks, when the real answer to many of Britain’s problems is the growth of society:

"Everyone agrees: we need more community. The problem is that we conduct this debate in largely sterile terms about the size of the state.  On one side you have people, like Polly Toynbee on the Guardian, who think that the restoration of community lies in expanding the size and scope of government.  And then there are those on the other side, like Simon Heffer on the Telegraph, who think that only a small state can deliver healthy communities. They argue that we must cut taxes and cut spending before we can hope to see a revival of community… The mistake both the Old Left and the Old Right make is that they look at the problem from the wrong end. They concentrate on government, not the people.  The fact that they say opposite things – one that we should expand the state, the other that we should shrink it – is irrelevant. They’re both talking about the state."

David Cameron is right to try and pull the national debate away from an
obsession with the size of the state and towards a focus on the health
of society.  When the 3D institutions of society are weak – the family,
the voluntary sector, local schools – and when they fail to civilise,
care and educate then the demands upon the state grow.  The state grows
bigger because uncivilised citizens cause crime, because
uncared-for-children and pensioners need state-provided help and
uneducated people are more likely to become welfare dependent and less
likely to contribute to economic growth.

David Cameron continues:

"Instead of expanding the supply of state services, as
the Old Left wants, I believe we should strive to expand the supply of
social services – services provided by society itself.  And rather than
cutting the supply of state services, as the Old Right wants, I believe
we should strive to cut the demand for them – reduce the numbers of
people who rely on the state, rather than simple reducing the services
they receive."

Reducing the demand for government was one of the best ideas to emerge from last year’s leadership election.  In an article for The Times, this was my take on David Willetts’ idea:

"The public will never vote for cuts in state services
until they are convinced that those services are no longer needed.
Voters may be unhappy at the performance of the welfare state but they
will support its continuation until there are fewer needy people or
until vulnerable people can call upon superior sources of care.  Social
breakdown is a leading cause of higher government spending. A
Conservative programme to reverse this breakdown is urgently needed,
therefore, to address the crime-ridden estates, weak extended families
and substance abuse that have all created chronic forms of dependency."

David Cameron wants social growth.  Here are a few suggestions of what such growth would look like:

  • An increase in rates of marriage and a reduction in rates of divorce.
  • More people volunteering and doing so in a reliable, regular way.
  • A better funded voluntary sector with a smaller proportion of sector income coming directly from the state.
  • More schools established and run by parents.
  • Housing estates that through design are hospitable to community and inhospitable to crime.

There is now just the small matter of coming up with the policy environment that will nurture such social growth… I outlined some of them here.