Earlier today I highlighted Oliver Letwin’s socio-centric article in The Times and worried about his opaque choice of phrases. In the speech he made at Policy Exchange he admitted that it was all part of a grand plan:
"There is a reason why I have been using this ridiculous, high-falutin language. I want to make the point that ridiculous high-falutin language is not the sole prerogative of Gordon Brown with his post neo-classical endogenous growth theory… Nor of David Miliband with his “emphasis on the value of equality and solidarity… supplemented by renewed commitment to the extension of personal autonomy in an increasingly interdependent world”. You shouldn’t think that, just because someone uses complicated words, they have a coherent theory. And you shouldn’t think that, just because someone tries, most of the time to speak in plain English, they don’t have a theory. Cameron Conservatives have a strong attachment to plain English. That is because we think that it is easier to think clearly in clear language. But this has misled some people who think that theories come in complicated language to think we haven’t got one. And my point is that, despite our general preference for plain language, we do have a theory. It can be expressed (as I have just expressed it) in complicated language. It can also be expressed (as I am about to do) in much simpler terms."
The simpler bits then follow:
"At the recent Conservative Spring Forum, I chaired a discussion about the work of our six policy groups. Afterwards, a senior party official – who had taken time off from his arduous administrative responsibilities to listen to the discussion – approached me to say that he had now understood what we were up to. “Instead of economics”, he said, “it’s now about the whole way we live our lives”. Bull’s eye. Instead of being about economics, politics in a post-Marxist age is about the whole way we live our lives; it is about society… As David Cameron put it in his speech to the same Spring Forum: “It’s not economic breakdown that Britain now faces, but social breakdown. Not businesses that aren’t delivering, but public services. Not rampant inflation but rampant crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour. Not irresponsible unions – it’s irresponsible parents."
There’s a second paradigm shift and if you want to read more please see this pdf.
My main reason for writing this second post, however, is to emphasise how valuable this shift in Tory thinking is. My frustration at the "high-falutin language" – which I still don’t understand the need for – distracted me from the proper need to welcome the Letwin-Cameron emphasis on society. When I worked at Conservative Central Office I initiated the process that led to the publication of There is such a thing as society. It’s real progress that we now have a party leadership that understands that economics is not the be all and end all. At the start of the Thatcher years most people worried about whether their kids would get a job or whether they could afford the mortgage. Those worries are still very real for many people but more people are now worried about the dangers of crime and drugs and relationship breakdown. Social problems are now a bigger deal in every sense and the Conservatives are right to focus on them.
It is also true that social breakdown has huge implications for economic welfare. Children that grow up in strong families make for more productive and self-sufficient citizens. When the welfare society is weak and unable to deliver its superior forms of holistic care, the welfare state has to pick up the pieces. The taxpayer then picks up the bill for that enlarged welfare state. The best way of ensuring a long-term reduction in the size of the state is to rebuild the institutions of society. As I have argued before, Conservatives have traditionally been too focused on cutting the supply of government and would be better focused on reducing the demand for government.
Earlier today ConservativeHome interviewed Oliver Letwin: