Leading article: An attractive destination, but an unclear journey

David Cameron's plans for the state raise some difficult questions

Share
Related Topics

David Cameron certainly paints an attractive picture of his revolution. In a speech yesterday he described what he wants his "big society" to look like. A host of public services will be in the hands of innovative charities, social entrepreneurs and grassroots organisations. These will be franchised and funded by the state, but not run by it. Such a shift would result in the inefficiencies of the sclerotic public sector melting away. And deprivation levels would fall as the poor would be increasingly liberated by this new framework of support to fulfil their economic potential.

It is an ambitious vision – and certainly not unwelcome for that. There can be little doubt that the top-down delivery of public services and aspects of the existing welfare system have resulted in a good deal of waste in recent years. They have also had considerably less impact in tackling entrenched poverty in parts of Britain than many hoped for.

Fresh thinking is to be encouraged. And it is also welcome that Mr Cameron, in the distinguished tradition of One Nation Conservatism, has made easing the plight of the very poorest a clear objective for his party.

But though he describes the destination well, Mr Cameron is less convincing when it comes to setting out the journey. The Conservative leader is right to point out that the voluntary sector is often more efficient and innovative than state-run agencies. He might well be right too when he claims that there is a great deal of potential in the voluntary sector waiting to be tapped by a "galvanising, catalysing, prompting and encouraging" state. But it remains the case that if charities and social entrepreneurs are to take over existing government functions, they will require generous public funding.

It is hard to see such a revolution in the provision of public services taking place in the context of the severe budget cuts that the Conservatives have, of late, pressed for. Indeed, savage fiscal retrenchment could conceivably doom Mr Cameron's project. If a future Conservative administration tries to achieve this revolution on the cheap it is likely to collapse, leaving the whole idea discredited.

There is also a tension over means and ends. Mr Cameron is undoubtedly right to argue that the best way to alleviate poverty in the long term is through better education and skills. And his commitment to shake up the state school sector, to this end, is welcome. Yet he cannot escape the reality that poverty is a technical measure of relative income inequality.

Inequality was stable in the 1970s and then began to rise considerably in the 1980s under the Thatcher government. New Labour managed to keep a lid on it through a system of tax credits (fiscal transfers, through the tax system, from the rich to the poor). Yet Mr Cameron is largely hostile to tax credits, pointing out the disincentives and distortions they create. They do indeed have undesirable social side effects. But Mr Cameron will find that dismantling the tax credits system will make it extremely difficult for him to prevent inequality from rising. If the Conservative leader is serious about reducing poverty it makes little sense for him to decommission his most potent weapon.

Mr Cameron's One Nation Conservatism is one of his strengths. And he certainly presents a compelling vision of a more enabling society. But the roadmap to the kind of country that Mr Cameron wants is still incomplete.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker