Steve Richards: This is a sincere and coherent vision for rolling back the state. But will it work?

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The Independent Online

Unity at the very top of the new coalition is secure and genuine whatever happens further below. Nick Clegg's speech today on political reform, and David Cameron's yesterday on his plans for a "big society", are framed by a common view of the state. In his speech today Clegg promises a transformation so that "the state has less control over you and you have far more control over the state". Yesterday Cameron argued that the state is "too often inhuman, monolithic and clumsy to tackle our deepest social problems".

Clegg promises a "big bang" approach to political reform. Such a determinedly sweeping approach marks a change of tone from the timid, incremental caution of the last government, although arguably the precise policies outlined are not as historic as Labour's programme of devolution introduced after the 1997 election.

Instead the proposals released in advance of Clegg's speech focus on the cathartic removal of Labour's more neurotically delivered policy agenda.

Unequivocally and unsurprisingly Clegg will confirm that ID cards are to be scrapped. With good cause he refers to other proposals with some qualifications. The DNA database will be "properly regulated". The Government will not hold internet and email records when there is "just no reason to do so". More widely he promises to consult the voters on "which laws should go", a populist exercise that I suspect will produce contradictory responses.

But Cameron and Clegg are more self-confident politicians than their Labour predecessors and will not feel the need to use the Commons as a newsroom in which anti-crime legislation is introduced in order to make a headline or two in the hope the Government seems "tough". That is healthy.

There is a connection with Cameron's speech yesterday in both substance and tone. The "big society" is presented as a more effective way of delivering services compared with state provision. Some of the proposals are potentially radical such as the "support" for co-operatives and mutuals in running public services, but the nature of the support was unspecified beyond the creation of a Big Society Bank. A National Citizen Service will be "piloted", a tentative first step in what might prove to be a useful addition to the repertoire for 16-year-olds if it is properly funded. Access to government-held data is a genuinely empowering measure and will concentrate the minds of those previously protected by secrecy.

But in most cases much will depend on resources and the level of resources will depend on the state. There is no getting away from the state.

None of the proposals are as revolutionary as the formation of the coalition itself and the proposed referendum on electoral reform. Both have the power to transform the way we conduct politics permanently and in ways that were unimaginable two weeks ago. Clegg's big bang and Cameron's big society are connected and coherent agendas, but both will have cause to discover that an active state is not necessarily a sinister or incompetent one as they embark on a shared liberal mission to empower.