In the wake of the murder of south London teenager Billy Cox and the UNICEF report on child welfare, David Cameron’s speech on British society was likely to win substantial coverage and it led this morning’s Today programme. In the 8.10am interview Mr Cameron said that all of Britain’s social problems – teenage pregancy, bad discipline in schools and urban violence – were related to family breakdown. In language likely to delight social conservatives he reiterated his pledge to introduce an allowance for married couples and to ensure that absent fathers paid maintenance to the mothers of their children but his main point was that government could not succeed if the institutions of society remained weak.
In his speech the Conservative leader will say that Britain urgently needs "to encourage a culture of intervention":
"In a healthy society, children are the responsibility not just of their parents, but of the whole community. I’m not talking about taking on a gang of dangerous thugs. I’m talking about treating children and teenagers with respect – with the expectation that, if they are spoken to as reasonable people, they will respond as reasonable people."
Although he will touch on issues such as the need for teachers to enjoy greater powers to instil discipline in schools, Mr Cameron’s speech identifies two key villains behind the decline of society.
First, father absence. He will say that society is founded on the care of children "by the man and the woman who brought them into the world." Without defining what he means he will say that "we urgently need to reform the law, and the rules around child maintenance, to compel men to stand by their families."
His second target is unhealthy working hours. Here is a key extract of what he is expected to say:
"If it comes to a collision between our wealth as a nation and the well-being of families – I choose families. I don’t make this choice lightly. I know that a dynamic economy is essential to create the wealth we need, not least in order to eradicate poverty. Competitiveness, which includes a flexible labour market, is one of the central components of a fair society. But we must not put the cart before the horse. If our working habits are damaging our families, we need to change our working habits. I believe that businesses have an overriding corporate responsibility to help lessen this conflict, and make it easier for parents to find the proper balance for their lives. Let us have no more grandstanding about the exclusive importance of competitiveness in business. Nothing matters more than children."
The Tory leader’s analysis will be backed up by Alan Duncan. In a lunchtime address to the Centre for Policy Studies the Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary will praise David Cameron for having "decontaminated" the Tory brand (that word again) and will go on to say:
“The collapse of authority cannot remain undiscussed. If there is no fear of authority, there is no respect for it. It cannot make sense in a civilised society for children of school age to face the discipline they need in court rather than in class or in the home. Even though most of the problems at any school are family-based, we are condemned to decline if adults and institutions remain unable to reclaim authority over younger people. Living out in real life the disturbing plot of William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ risks corroding Britain’s well-being. The likes of Gordon Brown believe that action by the state can and will solve all these problems. It can’t. Social responsibility means that the state on its own should not be seen as the solution; institutions other than the state have a far greater role to play.”