I’ve just returned from David Cameron’s speech to The Scarman Trust. I camcordered a key extract and you can see the results in the YouTube/ 18DoughtyStreet video clip below.
The last few days on ConservativeHome – the reaction to David Cameron’s Darfur visit and to Greg Clark’s poverty message – have really disappointed me. There’s been a harshness in the threads and a coldness to the suffering of some of the poorest and most desperate people in the world. I am no slavish defender of Project Cameron. I disagree with the party’s approach to climate change and tax competitiveness. I would like to see the party putting a greater emphasis on security and defence issues but I have no trouble with David Cameron’s social justice agenda. I actually felt great pride in the Conservative Party as I listened to David Cameron speak this morning.
Here are three key reasons why this poverty agenda makes Project Cameron worthwhile:
Mrs Thatcher redistributed – Conservatives have always redistributed. The current Tory debate about redistribution reminds me of the debate in the 1980s when Tories talked about cutting public spending but actually increased it. If the next Conservative Government is going to maintain Britain’s essentially progressive taxation system then let’s not appear hard-faced unnecessarily. We’re one nation Tories that understand the need for a stretching of the income spectrum but we must not allow a section of society to become completely detached from the mainstream. I support wealthier voters being taxed to give poorer people increased opportunities and ‘a second chance’ but Conservatives – unlike Labour – will always have an understanding of the disincentive effects of high taxes and never risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
The poor are getting left behind under Labour. Greg Clark was probably ill-advised to have mentioned Polly Toynbee in his controversial paper. Nothing should be done to add to the status of a social commentator whose ideas are the enemy of genuine progress. But Greg Clark’s analysis is correct. Labour have lifted those people just below the poverty line to just above it – it’s modest improvement to hit some targets. It’s not transformation. Labour’s measure of poverty is almost purely financial (and we’re supposed to be the materialistic party?). The deepest forms of poverty have persisted and many people have gone backwards. See this YouTube clip to hear Greg explain his agenda in his own words.
Conservatives will address the causes of poverty. According to this morning’s speech, for David Cameron a lack of money is a symptom of poverty – not a cause. The real causes of poverty are as diverse as the circumstances of the people who find themselves in poverty. There’s drug abuse, alcoholism, family breakdown, serious indedtedness, skills deficits and many other lifeshocks. Cameron:
"What do all these things have in common? They are all problems that can never be tackled by the state alone. They are social problems – and they require social solutions. That is the key. So we need to identify the causes of poverty. We need to disaggregate them. And we need to deal with each of them – separately, and appropriately. That means understanding the complexities of the causes of poverty… complexities that are often human, personal, emotional and which therefore need to be addressed through the power of society, not just the state."
I’m disappointed that Project Cameron has already ruled out certain things that would help the poor – a serious programme of school choice and reduced taxation, for example. His stance on so-called softer drugs is not as clear as it could be. But there are big strengths, too, within his agenda. I think of the leader’s support for marriage… for a big increase in drug rehabiltation places… for greater support of faith-based and other social enterprises… for throwing grit into the credit system that is dragging poorly-informed consumers into serious arrears… Of all the changes David Cameron is making to the party the commitment to social justice is the most welcome.
It would help if David Cameron’s search for a more representative parliamentary party went beyond the superficial search for more women (who have largely the same social backgrounds as the men). It’s been at least three months since ConservativeHome identified a modest programme to address the £41,000 cost of becoming a Tory MP. CCHQ has not responded to that programme. Until it does there’ll be huge numbers of would be candidates who simply cannot afford to become a Tory MP. Not one word. Not one email. Not one modest step forward. Many of those put off by the £41,000 cost will be social entrepreneurs and poverty-fighters who could add enormously to the party’s understanding of the social problems of modern Britain.