ConservativeHome struggled to understand Tony Blair’s Telegraph article of Saturday in which he confessed that his approach to incivility had been wrong but then offered confusing ways forward. Responding on the same editorial pages today David Cameron writes that it is obvious that the Prime Minister still doesn’t ‘get it’:
- He still believes that public investment is the solution – "He believes that state initiatives and taxpayers’ cash can ”cure” the "nature of society". Anyone who still believes either that Mr Blair is a ”closet Tory”, or that I am anything other than a Conservative, should stick that quotation on their fridge door." Quite.
- He believes that crime and incivility are concentrated in a few hands and these hands need the interventions of the nanny state. David Cameron is excoriating: "I find it extraordinary that Mr Blair could go from thinking incivility was a widespread social phenomenon in 1992, to a limited and localised one in 2007. Maybe this is what happens after 10 years as Prime Minister. Rarely travelling on public transport, constantly told what you want to hear, only aware of the most sensational breaches of public order, Mr Blair has missed one of the most pronounced and important social changes of our times. The decline in civility is not confined to a few unruly families and neighbourhoods. It is all around us – on buses and trains, in shops and on the street."
At the end of his article, the Conservative leader identifies some of the policies that he will introduce to lead a revolution in social responsibility. They are listed below with ConservativeHome reactions in italics:
- Reforming the benefits system: Haven’t seen much policy here although it is vital that the benefit system encourages the two pillars of any strong society – work and marriage.
- Recognising marriage in the tax system: ConservativeHome strongly supports this policy and hopes that it won’t be a mouse of a commitment when it is announced. Only a large allowance will signify intent. It’s also important that the party realises that a tax allowance does not make enough of a family policy. There need to be the kind of Healthy Marriage support services that are run by the voluntary sector but are supported by taxpayers’ money. We also need action on debt and other measures that will increase the strength of families. Giving parents freedom to choose their children’s own school would be a good start but we’re unlikely to see that policy revived.
- Freeing police from central bureaucracy: Nick Herbert MP’s policy is one of the most encouraging of the party’s initiatives and will be vital in turning the tide on criminality that preys so disproportionately on the vulnerable. Other encouraging aspects of the Conservative law and order agenda include investment in drug rehabilitation and a double commitment to more imprisonment and more rehabilitation.
- Long-term contracts for voluntary and social enterprises: This language is worrying. Talk of contracts echoes the Labour-voluntary sector relationship. Much of the establishment voluntary sector has an ethos that is indistinguishable from the public sector – partly because of long-term contracts that have come at the price of a dilution of essential difference and have filled many voluntary sector HQs with ex-local and central government staffers. David Cameron rightly praises the smaller and more community-rooted charities and enterprises. They are the future of poverty-fighting but they do not need the bear hug of the state. They need new forms of funding that ensure that they can grow without their effective ethos being compromised. Finding these forms of funding will be a primary test of Iain Duncan Smith’s social justice policy group.
Three other members of Team Cameron who are pursuing excellent policies in this whole area are Michael Gove – working on affordable housing; John Hayes – raising the standing of skills and vocational education; and David Willetts with his enquiry into the pressures of modern childhood.