Some thoughts on David Cameron’s speech
We didn’t analyse David Cameron’s speech here because it was light on policy. (That’s not a criticism by the way. There’s a lot to be said for setting out ideology and vision when politics is often so managerialist and driven by whatever this week’s media obsession happens to be.)
But I’ve been pondering what I think is a big logical flaw in the politics he set out – and that of compassionate conservativism in general. Some of his arguments were clearly influenced by so-called red Tory Phillip Blond. I heard him speak at a couple of fringe meetings at the Labour Party conference and found his views (well set out in the New Statesman here) interesting.
To grossly simplify these arguments – which I suspect is what David Cameron did, so I can too – much of what is wrong with Britain today (our broken society) can be put down to the contradictory politics on the (broadly defined) left between:
- a social liberalism that says anything goes and doesn’t require people to adhere to social norms, and
- an ever more interfering and regulatory state.
I do not accept this critique, though it’s certainly a thoughtful contribution to debate. Blond does clearly care about poverty and inequality. He talks attractively of the importance of civil society, mutuality and self-help, though when I asked him whether he would agree that trade unions were an important non-state way of making society more equal he answered by saying trade unions had got it wrong since the NUM in 1948 had refused a seat on the Coal Board. That is certainly an arguable point, but hardly an answer to the question.
But let us for a moment assume that David Cameron’s analysis of what is wrong and why it has happened is right.
This is where the logical flaw starts, for it doesn’t follow that if you stop doing the things you think have been done wrong society will automatically go back to the good old days that this politics tends to assume. To put it simply if you shrink the state, cut public spending and stop regulating it doesn’t mean that people will become more neighbourly and community minded.