On his blog yesterday Nick Robinson wondered if this website would cheer a forthcoming promise by Nick Clegg to cut the overall burden of taxation.  It’s true that we’re supply-siders on tax.  We side with the TaxPayers’ Alliance in our fear that it would be disastrous for UK plc if we raise taxes during a slowdown.  But there’s one big reason why we can’t take Mr Clegg seriously on the size of the state: Mr Clegg isn’t serious about society.

Last week, in Glasgow, David Cameron gave his landmark ‘right and wrong’ speech.  Last evening, in a thoughtful, fascinating speech – to the Centre for Policy Studies – George Osborne linked social failure with the large (welfare) state and economic uncompetitiveness.  Overnight Mr Cameron congratulated Barack Obama on the US presidential candidate’s tough message to black males: A man raises a child, he doesn’t just create one.  Cameron and Osborne are combining two great insights:

  • the economic potency of social factors, and
  • an understanding that politicians can play a role in ‘bully-pulpiting’ and nudging change as well as legislating for change.

We’d like to suggest we got there a few years ago but Nick Clegg just doesn’t get this stuff at all.  Reacting to David Cameron’s Glasgow speech last week, Mr Clegg played juvenile politics, accusing Mr Cameron of having "contempt for the poor and the forgotten".  His party’s indifference to the institution of marriage, opposition to education reforms and weakness on crime mean he has no route map to deliver the kind of society that can underpin a smaller state.

The conservative coalition has three main components: social, economic and ‘national purpose’ conservatives.  On social policy the next Conservative government promises to be profoundly interesting.  Economic policy is probably too cautious but is getting more promising.  It is in the area of ‘national purpose’ – our relationship with Europe, national security and wider foreign policy – where thinking has been most limited but the party has two years to develop this area.

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