We don’t know who Martin Ball is but he’s unimpressed with Tory ‘nudging’. This is Mr Ball’s letter to today’s FT:
"If the Conservative party believes it is the role of government to influence individual and organisational behaviour (“Nudging not nannying to achieve social goals”, August 5) then it clearly clings to the view that the man in Whitehall knows best. No matter what fashionable and seemingly innocuous word is used, this is unmistakable nannying. Either you believe individuals are capable of making the best choices for their lives or you follow your paternalist instincts and direct them. If shoppers and customers believe businesses are not conducting themselves properly, then the power to alter this behaviour is rightfully with them. Any attempt at conditioning from a lofty political perch will not be successful or indeed desirable.
The choice for the Conservative party is clear: either it is a party of individual freedom or it wants to further go down the authoritarian route of the Blair-Brown years. There is a nation wanting to be liberated from state interference and the Conservative party should once again lead the way in setting it free."
But surely there is a middle way between state control of social life and a complete laissez-faire approach? You could even call it conservatism! Here’s an incomplete list of where the current Tory leadership has been willing to reject both state control and a laissez-faire approach:
- Provision of more support for new parents in the form of maternity nurses and healthcare visitors.
- Support for marriage including a tax allowance of a-yet-to-be-defined kind and more investment in relationship education and counselling.
- Encouragement for firms to act socially responsibly… David Cameron has criticised BHS for its ‘Little Miss Naughty’ clothes range… W H Smith for selling chocolate oranges at the cashpoint… the music industry for violent messages… and this week Michael Gove questioned the publishers of Nuts and Zoo.
- George Osborne has proposed a cooling-off period between when people sign up for store credit cards and when they can use them.
- Mr Osborne has also proposed higher taxation of alcopops to discourage irresponsible drinking amongst teens and Boris Johnson has introduced a complete ban on alcohol on London’s public transport.
- Jeremy Hunt has warned against "damaging gambling liberalisation".
- Ed Vaizey, only yesterday, reminded local councils that they have powers to protect children from violent films.
In today’s Telegraph Mary Riddell writes about the party having "staked out a limbo between the Left’s command-and-control instinct and the Right’s wish to expunge the state from family life." This isn’t easy territory. There isn’t ideological purity but, as Riddell suggests, most people will approve of most of David Cameron’s ‘limbo choices’.