Breakthrough Britain

19 07 2007

The Tories are continuing the theme of social breakdown. Iain Duncan Smith’s Social Justice Group are due to report this week. He gets inspired by inner city voluntary groups in the Daily Telegraph, and in The Observer Iain neatly picks up the baton after some good, hard running on the issue by Michael Gove.

Duncan Smith is ‘appalled’ and ‘angered’ by social deprivation in our communities. Ours is a ‘broken society’ whereby the lives of the underclass are ‘characterised by dependency, addiction, debt and family breakdown’.

Duncan Smith writes in the Telegraph: ‘That… our policies will be about strengthening the family and marriage, as well as reducing addiction, improving education, helping people get back into work without the Brown penalties and easing the debt burdens on the worst off.

‘Also, we recognise that none of this can be done without the voluntary sector. It is often the last chance for those whose lives have failed; we need to help strengthen it and offer a second chance to too many consigned to the scrapheap today.’

Duncan Smith will also call for un-Tory intervention into the financial markets – the one industry Margaret Thatcher did so much to deregulate. Power to the people Comrade Smith! Some fetters should be placed on unfettered capitalism – he’s right to be worried about the underclass that get lost behind in a growing economy. A couple of months ago, the Prime Minister (then Chancellor) was being advised that the gap between rich and poor is yawning so great that the result could be “violent reactions”. Violent reactions? Can Brown be accused of creating the conditions for civic disorder? Hardly uniting Britain, is he?

Which brings us back to Iain Duncan Smith’s constituency in Chingford & Woodford Green. His predecessor Norman Tebbit is remembered for urging the underclass to get on their bike and find work. [Primarily Norman may have been saying there is no justification for rioting. But then, when he said this, unemployment was over 4m and there were not 4m unfilled vacancies in Britain in 1981.]

Tebbit will always be accused of the most extraordinary insensitivity and misunderstanding of issues pertaining to social disadvantage. Sir Ronald Cohen has warned Brown that he’s flirting with the prospect of being similarly accused.

But as a result of the work of the Social Justice Commission, Duncan Smith and the Cameroons are pretty much in the clear. On a personal level, IDS’s transformation is stark. The Quiet Man is no Wet. He was endorsed by Tebbit for the Leadership. And Duncan Smith in turn backed the Vulcan John Redwood for leadership in 1995.

Old Tories are becoming New Tories. And even the most implacable are undergoing conscience-enhancement procedures. Duncan Smith is the most extreme example of this transformation. Now buxom of heart and boasting new age charms, he’s a kind of metaphysical Katie Price.

So some Tories are changing. But by no means all. How far has Conservatism moved? The Observer had the former editor of the Daily Telegraph complaining about the voluntary sector, red tape and political correctness. Martin Newland is not a Tory frontbencher, but I would associate his position as more attuned to traditional Toryism. And he seems impatient and nonplussed with all this Cameron guff. Compare Newland with some of IDS statements.

Clearly Newland is pissing on the strategy. Just as IDS and the New Tories are doing empathy and conscience, the Observer is ensuring that Gordon Brown is being seen as compassionless beancounter. No longer is British politics uni-polar – the Tories are being taken seriously, and taken seriously in the left wing press. Maybe Andy Coulson will want a word with Newland.

What with Digby Jones and the great peerage handout; this £1 million donation; a truly Olympian quango boasting Beardy and his rich mates; and New Labour’s London being seen as a Sybaris for the super rich – the son of the Manse is losing his reputation for simple, Calvinist tastes.

If I were a Tory strategist, I’d be both cock-a-hoop and bricking it. Yes, Tories have got all this ammunition to fire at Labour. But they have to make it count. What if they fail to press their advantage with the media so wary of Brown, and Brown so wary of the media?

Once, describing IDS to a constituent, Tebbit somewhat tongue in cheek said: ‘Madam, these are the teeth of a killer. This man must have meat or die’. The Tories must continue to do soft and fluffy, but will they have the killer instinct to finish the job?

For example, had Cameron brought forward the Social Justice Group report it might have allowed Willetts to hang on re grammar schools and social mobility. Failing education is one of the five paths to poverty identified by the group. IDS, as the darling of the old right, might have reframed the debate and taken the pressure off Willetts, who was clearly under attack from the old right. Could have been a big win for Cameron, but he relented. Conscience-enhancing is one thing, but politics with convictions requires a killer instinct.

In answer to some of the questions I posed below in ‘Location presently unknown’ – I see mild progress being made. Two steps forward, one step back. The Social Justice Group looks like good stuff, particularly on reeling in lenders. How will Cameron respond to the IDS initiatives? He can embrace it all or dismiss it all. If we’re to believe Cameron then I feel he must embrace it and have the courage of his convictions to follow it through. The Tories either want to see a Breakthrough Britain or they don’t.

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