Leading article: Mr Cameron's responsibility is to give us some detail

The Tory leader's social plans are welcome, but not fully explained

Share
Related Topics

It would be easy to characterise David Cameron's speech to the Demos think tank yesterday as the Conservative equivalent of the kind sometimes made by American politicians in homage to motherhood and apple pie. After all, who isn't in favour of "strong and secure families, confident and able parents"? Which political party opposes "an ethic of responsibility from a young age"?

But to dismiss Mr Cameron's words as political boilerplate would be to miss the point, not to mention the serious challenges the Conservatives are setting themselves. In his speech Mr Cameron claims to be shifting from a previous Tory worldview, in which all that is needed as far as social policy is concerned is freedom for individuals and a strong rule of law; or in Thomas Carlyle's phrase "anarchy plus the constable".

It is encouraging that the Tories are grappling with social problems that they previously ignored, or to which they only used to propose criminal justice solutions. It is also hard to deny that Labour's "statism" has stifled civil society in recent years. The ID card programme and the vetting scheme for those who work with children are an indication of a government that simply does not understand the proper boundary between the state and the individual.

But the important question is: how do Mr Cameron's insights translate into policy? His reiteration yesterday of a pledge to bolster the Sure Start childcare programme, and promises to increase the number of health visitors, to introduce Flexible Parental Leave, and encourage relationship counselling make sense, both in terms of supporting families and reducing poverty.

The focus on improving state education through enhancing parent power and the independence of schools is also welcome. So is the shot across the bows of businesses over "the premature sexualisation and excessive commercialisation of our children". This all indicates that the Conservatives do indeed want to address the fraying of the social networks that hold us together, rather than just pretend that the problem can be miraculously solved by stiffer penal sentences for the criminal underclass.

Nevertheless, there are some big holes in Conservative plans. Mr Cameron once again deplored inequality and poverty in his speech. But the immediate effect of some of his policies – a marriage tax break and a rise in the inheritance tax threshold – will be to benefit the comfortably off. This will help widen inequality, not close the gap. Mr Cameron needs to acknowledge this and, if he believes it is a price worth paying for benefits further down the line, explain why.

The Conservative leader challenges Labour's fiscal redistribution model. And its outcomes have, it is true, been less than hoped for. But it is Gordon Brown's tax credits which have kept a lid on poverty over the past decade. Without them, inequality would be still higher. Again, Mr Cameron needs to acknowledge that achievement and explain how he would sustain it if he is truly serious about reducing inequality.

Then there is the fact that social reform does not come cheap. To deal with the deficit Mr Cameron has pledged to cut public spending, rather than raise new taxes. But this raises the question of how he will pay for his new policies designed to "reach out to dysfunctional and disadvantaged local families".

The big idea of Mr Cameron is that greater social cohesion can coexist with a smaller role for the state. It is a beguiling promise. But he still needs to do more to explain how it will be delivered if the public are to be convinced.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior DBA (SQL Server, T-SQL, SSIS, SSAS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior DBA (SQ...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Senior Project Manager

£60000 - £90000 per annum + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Global leading Energy Tra...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation on the country's Independence Day in New Delhi, India  

With Modi talking tough and Sharif weak, the India-Pakistan love-in could never last

Andrew Buncombe
At the time of the investigation Patrick Foster published a statement on Twitter, denouncing the “unnecessarily heavy-handed police investigation”  

Long-term bail allows lazy police and prosecutors to leave cases to gather dust

Oliver Wright
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment