We’ve discussed Michael Gove’s remarks about Nuts and Zoo but there’s much more to this morning’s speech to the IPPR. It’s an explanation of David Cameron’s Conservatism that sees the quality of relationships as essential to progress in education and the relief of poverty. It’s a statement of the superiority of people-sized institutions – like the family, neighbourhood charity and local school – over state-sized bureaucracies. It stands very much in the great tradition of To Empower People, the landmark book on civil society by Neuhaus and Berger. Some highlights from Michael Gove’s speech:
The importance of relationships: "Ubuntu is a Bantu word which, broadly translated, means "I am because you are". President Clinton has made it something of a mantra, and deployed it to great effect in his speech to the 2006 Labour Party Conference. It resonated because it spoke to a deep truth. Each of us is defined, and enriched, by our relationship to others. It’s the strength of our relationships, the warmth of our friendships, the time we have with our partners, parents and children, the respect we’re given in the workplace and by our peers, the achievements we forge collaboratively and collectively, which generate real happiness and fulfilment. We are fully ourselves because others believe in us. One of the most profound, but under-appreciated, changes that David Cameron has brought to Conservative politics is a determination to put the strengthening of relationships at the heart of policy."
Labour is undermining community relationships: "The Government’s approach to the closure of post offices, with its narrow emphasis on economic costs without regard to social benefits, is an erosion of community resilience. The determination to push ahead with the closure of small GP practices and their replacement by polyclinics is another move in the direction of narrow cost efficiency over enriching personal intimacy… More broadly, the web of autonomous institutions which help bind communities together have found their lives made more difficult in the last ten years. From scouting to child-minding, regulation has driven adults out of roles where they served their communities. School governance and charitable engagement have become much more time-consuming, legally fraught and bureaucratically complex."
Citizens want a more personal form of interaction with Government: "Frustrated by government bureaucracies which treat them as just a number, dismayed by automated helplines and unresponsive websites which deprive them of human contact and a sympathetic ear, they come to the surgery in search of someone who will listen, who will value them as humans not cases. And yet, even as I, like almost all MPs, witness this growing demand for a more personal, responsive, human face to Government, this government is making public services more distant."
Improving the relationship with parents and schools: "The principle at the heart of our schools reform programme is changing the way we make schools accountable so that community relationships are strengthened. We will make schools accountable to parents by allowing parents to choose the school they want for their child. We’ll give every parent the right to take the money currently allocated to their child’s education and then deploy it in accordance with their priorities, not the Government’s. We’ll make it easier for new providers to enter the state system, reforming planning and other laws to increase choice and diversity. Parents will be empowered to choose the school with the pedagogy, the disciplinary approach, the ethos and the philosophy they believe in. Whether its the philosophy of Rudolph Steiner or Thomas Arnold, it will be parents who decide what’s right for their children."
A better relationship between the very rich and very poor: "My colleague Greg Clark has previously outlined how important it is for us to see society as a caravan moving through the desert – as we all make progress its important that none are left too far behind. The relationship between those at society’s head and those less fortunately placed is important to us all – and there is a duty to ensure that the relationship between those at the top and bottom of society does not become too distant. We must not become strangers to each other in the same country."
Encouraging responsibility to the poor: "Now, I’m a huge fan of open market economies, growth, dynamism, entrepeneurship and success. I would never want to impede economic growth, indeed I’m anxious to remove many of the barriers which currently stand in the way of dynamism and ambition. But I do believe that we need to ensure that with a culture which encourages, facilitates and celebrates success there’s also a parallel culture of responsibility, reciprocity and respect. Of those to whom much is given, much is expected. That’s why we as a party have devoted so much time to exploring how we can encourage philanthropy, in every area from investment in education to culture and environmental enhancement. That’s why David Cameron has emphasised the vital importance of corporate social responsibility. That’s why our social policy is so explicitly redistributive."
Conservatives are committed to strengthening relationships within the family: "We are also committed to supporting family life, and stability and commitment in relationships, precisely because the secure start in life a stable family background provides is the best guarantee of maximising opportunity. Helping adults commit and stay committed not only opens the door to a depth of emotional enrichment which a series of shallow and hedonistic encounters can never generate, it also provides the best possible start in life for children. Helping families under pressure, especially those under economic pressure, to commit and stay committed, is one of the most effective anti-poverty, pro-opportunity, pro-equality steps one could take."