Leading article: An attractive destination, but an unclear journey

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

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

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Clean energy should be our mission to the moon

Martin Rees
Angela Merkel and David Cameron say goodbye in the Bundeskanzleramt after their meeting in Berlin, Germany, 29 May 2015  

The complacency of Europhiles could lose them the referendum

Steve Richards
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral