Poor partly to blame for plight, says Cameron

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The poor, the obese and people with drug or alcohol problems are partly to blame for their own plight, David Cameron claimed yesterday.

The Conservative leader used a speech in Glasgow to claim that Britain was in the grip of "a refusal to make judgements about what is good and bad behaviour, right and wrong behaviour".

He said: "We talk about people being 'at risk of obesity' instead of talking about people who eat too much and take too little exercise. Of course circumstances – where you are born, your neighbourhood, your school, and the choices your parents make – have a huge impact. But social problems are often the consequences of the choices that people make."

Mr Cameron added: "We as a society have been far too sensitive. In order to avoid injury to people's feelings, in order to avoid appearing judgemental, we have failed to say what needs to be said. We have seen a decades-long erosion of responsibility, of social virtue, of self-discipline, respect for others, deferring gratification instead of instant prettification

"Instead we prefer a moral neutrality, a refusal to make judgements about what is good and bad behaviour, right and wrong behaviour. Bad, good, right, wrong: these are words that our political system and our public sector scarcely use any more."

He went on: "There is a danger of becoming quite literally a de-moralised society, where nobody will tell the truth about what is good and bad, right and wrong. That is why children are growing up without boundaries, thinking they can do as they please, and why no adult will intervene to stop them – including often their parents."

Labour and the Liberal Democrats expressed anger at his comments. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, lambasted the Tory leader for "debasing" arguments about social problems.

A spokeswoman for Unison, the public sector union, said: "People who work in the public sector spend their daily lives looking after people, caring for the sick, teaching kids and making sure our streets are clean and safe. They are not helped at all by such silly comments by someone who ought to know better."

Denis MacShane, the former foreign office minister, likened Mr Cameron's words to Margaret Thatcher's claim that there was no such thing as society. He said: "In the past 25 years morality has been reduced to a commercial transaction in which people are told they can be slim, sexy or happy if they buy the right product. This is the great lie peddled by reactionary hucksters through the ages.

"Under the Cameron vision the individual is left to sink and swim alone and without help. For a man who has wanted for nothing since childhood thanks to his personal wealth it is literally rich of Mr Cameron to blame the poor, or single mother, or the obese for their own failings instead of challenging the commercialisation of all human relations which lies at the heart of modern Toryism."

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