John Hayes MP on David Cameron's first 100 days: Social Justice
At the start of the last parliament I routinely used the term social justice in conversation with a fellow Tory MP. It was met with a mixture of disbelief and hostility - social justice is a socialist idea, I was told. Thank God the party has travelled a long way since then. David Cameron’s first act as party leader was to establish a policy group on social justice. There is every reason for all shades of Conservative opinion to welcome this new emphasis.
One nation conservatives should be automatic enthusiasts. They instinctively understand that you can’t claim to love Britain but be indifferent to the circumstances of many of your fellow countrymen. You can’t want to keep the pound but keep quiet about those without the money to make ends meet. Labour’s record on poverty is very mixed. Whilst billions of pounds have been sunk into battles against poverty, anyone familiar with life on Britain’s poorest estates knows that poverty is still winning the war.
If we are to win this struggle we can’t keep pulling the same levers and expect different results. David Cameron has promised to look for new, better weapons. He has spoken of the importance of social enterprise and of more rehabilitation places for people with drug problems. He has promised greater support for that much neglected institution that underpins any society’s caring capacity – the family. In this understanding there is much for ‘traditional values conservatives’ to welcome.
This emphasis should also encourage small government conservatives. One of the principal reasons for the fattening of government has been the growth of social problems. Every fractured family costs the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds. Addiction fuels crime and diminishes economic capacity. Poor schools and the problem of truancy mean many children turn to crime and never fulfil their potential. If we solve social problems we’ll not only be doing the right thing, we will also be laying the foundations for a more limited state.
All this goes to prove how that Tory MP – no longer in parliament – was so wrong. Social justice isn’t a bolt-on extra for authentic Conservatives. The Conservative Party is at its best when it’s true to its compassionate roots. Throughout our party’s history we have fought to extend opportunity, ownership and democracy. When Labour next claim that they have a monopoly of compassion, remind them ours is the party of Wilberforce, Shaftesbury and Disraeli. When Liberals next claim that they care more than you, remind them that their party opposed almost every social reform introduced by those very same one nation conservatives.
Iain Duncan Smith and the Centre for Social Justice deserve enormous credit for the rediscovery of the party’s one nation tradition; Iain has led the party’s thinking on this central issue. All Conservatives should welcome the new breadth of David Cameron’s Conservatism. The ‘crunchy’ commitments to conserve the beauty of the environment and to stand up to soulless big business are fundamentally conservative. He has brought a reasonableness to parliamentary debate by avoiding the petty point scoring that turns people off politics. And he has elevated political discourse by understanding that politics is not just about what we earn but about who we are. The kind of people for whom quality of life – with all its cultural and social dimensions – is a root to fulfilment way beyond self-interest. That is why David Cameron’s emphasis on social justice offers the greatest promise. I hope ConservativeHome will find a way to help this emphasis evolve into a powerful new policy agenda.
STEPHAN SHAKESPEARE OF YOUGOV WILL BE EXPLORING DAVID CAMERON'S IMPACT ON THE OPINION POLLS TOMORROW.