Compassionate conservatism is getting stronger and deeper by the day
For me the most important theme of David Cameron's leadership has been his determination to make our party a true party of social justice. If we are not in public life to help every member of our society we should not be in public life at all.
Our party has a great tradition of social reform but we have sometimes hid our light under a bushel and allowed Labour to claim a monopoly of the moral high ground. That is stupid politics. Many voters deserted us in 1997 because - although they, personally, had profited from the Thatcher-Major years - they felt too many people were being left behind. A winning conservatism, as Iain Duncan Smith says, will convince voters that we will be good for them but also their neighbour. The prize if we succeed is the complete realignment of British politics.
Ten themes seem important as we build a compassionate conservatism:
Basic reassurance: David Cameron has made it clear that the NHS will remain free-at-the-point-of-use. Conservatives are also prominent defenders of the basic state pension and David Willetts was ahead of Labour in saying that it needed to be reconnected to the rise in average earnings. Michael Gove has underlined his commitment to poorer families by suggesting higher funding for schools in very disadvantaged communities. As James Forsyth has noted, David Cameron has made social conservatism fashionable again by (among other things) respecting same-sex relationships.
Education reform. Michael Gove's Swedish supply-side revolution is likely to be the most radical idea in the next Conservative manifesto. Alongside reforms that would allow schools to choose to use different methods of examination system and to set teachers' pay and conditions it will cause big clashes with the teachers' unions. The one hole in the policy is the prohibition on new schools being able to make profits. There is speculation that this might change. My own view is that start-up schools that combine a real vision for teaching of British history with a strong disciplinary code will be particularly popular with parents.
Prison and welfare reform. While at Justice Nick Herbert set out some very interesting ideas on how to reduce reoffending. They included payment of prison governors by results. Jonathan Aitken in a report for the CSJ has recommended a range of measures to tackle the drug problem in prisons and to encourage more volunteer mentoring of prisoners. Theresa May and Lord Freud are now developing the tough requirements to seek work that were first announced by Chris Grayling.
The Shoestring manifesto for the poor. We all know that money is going to be tight for the next Conservative government but a chapter of ConservativeHome's Shoestring Manifesto was dedicated to policies that would help the poor and can be implemented immediately, with little or no cost. Those ideas included financial literacy education; action against loan sharks; divorce law reform; enactment of a Right-to-Move for council house tenants; a massive simplification of the system which delivers care to parents of disabled children; and protections for faith-based welfare groups to receive fair funding.
Support for marriage and the family. There are opponents of David Cameron's commitment to recognise marriage in the tax system but the vast majority of Tory members and the next generation of Conservative MPs are supportive (and rightly so). It would be very wrong to see Tory family policy only in terms of the marriage commitment. Probably more important is the commitment to invest in relationship education and to abolish the worsening couple penalty in the benefits system.
Early intervention. A big theme of the work of the Centre for Social Justice has been the need for very early intervention. Iain Duncan Smith was explaining this theme's importance in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. Read the full piece.
Social justice at the heart of Whitehall. Most anti-poverty policies will need to remain the preserve of the big, existing Whitehall departments (notably the Treasury, Education and Work & Pensions departments) but there is room for a Department of Social Justice that could ensure that the ideas of, for example, the Shoestring manifesto were implemented quickly and without responsible ministers being distracted by other priorities. A new Social Justice Select Committee - as proposed by Peter Luff MP - would ensure that a Conservative government was held to account on its promises by backbench MPs. My personal preference would be to see Greg Clark as Secretary of State for Social Justice and Iain Duncan Smith as Chairman of the Social Justice Select Committee.
Tax relief for the poor. When the public finances have improved the poorest families should be top of the priority list for tax cuts and the extension of asset ownership. Harry Benson has blogged on the nightmarish marginal rates that face poor working families. Edward Leigh MP has set out a programme for freeing millions of Britons from the tax system. It may have to be a second term priority given Labour's financial mismanagement but it will be an essential ingredient of what ConservativeHome has called "realignment".
Strict on immigration and generous to asylum seekers. We need to more readily make the distinction between immigration (which is too high) and providing refuge to people fleeing persecution. Conservatives should always work with other countries to provide asylum to the world's most desperate people. ConservativeHome also stands with Boris Johnson in urging a more humane and realistic policy towards illegal immigrants already in Britain.
More effective use of our international aid budget. Compassion cannot stop at Dover. So many people are dying in our world today from hunger and treatable disease. The Bush administration proved that a focused aid policy (he focused on malaria and HIV/AIDS) can save millions of lives. Andrew Mitchell's promise to keep Britain moving towards the 0.7% target for aid spending is unpopular with many Tory members but most should be able to warmly welcome (1) a shift away from already rich nations like China; (2) greater transparency of aid spending; (3) mobile-based banking services and investment in micro-financing; and (4) greater use of private sector models and leaders in aid delivery. More here. The work by Ben Rogers, in particular, on championing human rights needs to be recognised by a Conservative Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Annual reports on abuses in other nations - of the kind pioneered by the US State Department - will keep human rights-abusing nations in the public eye.