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

SEN Learning Support Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Learning Supp...

General Cover Teachers - GRIMSBY

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: We are working with a number of ...

SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED IN AND AROUND FOLKESTONE

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Gordon Brown’s finest hour, a letter from Quebec and the problem of anti-politics

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week