Magazine article The Spectator

Cameron's Vision Is a Thing of Beauty -- but Will It Be Destroyed by Cries of 'Tory Cuts'?

Magazine article The Spectator

Cameron's Vision Is a Thing of Beauty -- but Will It Be Destroyed by Cries of 'Tory Cuts'?

Article excerpt

Last week David Cameron delivered the best speech on modern Conservatism since Keith Joseph's lectures in the late 1970s.

Read to the Demos think-tank on Monday 30 January, it was a paper of real stature: lucid, original, candid and thoughtful.

Journalists do not much care for philosophical stuff unless it contains an 'announcement' or 'throws down a gauntlet', so this attracted little notice. No matter. This speech dispels doubts as to whether Cameron can bring to his party more than a shrewd grasp of marketing. It marks him as an intellectual leader too.

I shall now attack the speech. Too important a piece of thinking to be politely applauded, the emergent Cameronism deserves searching questions. For readers who have not read the speech, here in merciless summary is what Cameron said:

Under Margaret Thatcher the Conservatives so comprehensively achieved their goal of curing the economic ills and the Us vs Them mentality of 1970s Britain, that they delivered not just the country but their own party into a wholly new landscape. It was a place in which they felt lost. They have spent the years since then trying to come to terms with their own success, but have found it psychologically difficult to confront one of its most obvious fruits:

New Labour and Tony Blair.

Mr Blair has had the advantage of being able to take Conservative achievements for granted, and to try to build on them. He recognised something which had begun to trouble Margaret Thatcher and troubled John Major mightily, but to which Tories never found their voice in response: a loss of anchorage in our culture, anchorage into family, community and morality; and the way a minority of our countrymen were adrift, excluded from growing national prosperity and confidence. Blair articulated the problem masterfully and promised movingly to tackle it. Conservatives dithered:

should they paint him as a poseur and secret Marxist or veer rightwards on to territory they could call their own?

But after eight years it is now Blair's turn to dither. The harvest has failed -- blighted by Labour's ancient instinct to rely on big government for answers, and by Blair's personal instinct for seeking the attention-grabbing quick fix. Our economy is furring up, bureacracy is growing and the state is topdown and top-heavy.

Tories now have the advantage Blair once had: a growing consensus that the governing party is running into the sand, no culpability for it, and a set of solutions in tune with their instincts. These Cameron characterises as 'sharing responsibility' between the state and 'civil society': the individual, family and community. He talks of what can be done by businesses, social enterprises and voluntary organisations. A Conservative government striking a balance between social justice and economic efficiency, between the state and the small platoons will be, he concludes, 'fulfilling, not betraying, our inheritance'.

I have compressed cruelly. Allowed to breathe, the speech is compelling. Cameron himself anticipates the most obvious objection:

fine phrases are easy; but more detail, please, on where you strike the balance, who these small platoons will be, and how we empower them. His answer, 'we're working on it', should satisfy most of us for the time being.

I have three bigger difficulties, not so much with the lack of detail as with the broad philosophical thrust.

The first is a dilemma Keith Joseph often stressed. 'Civil society' -- you and I, family, private duty, voluntary groups -- needs a stimulus before it acts. …

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