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

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee