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David Cameron explains how he wants to "use the state to remake society"

David Cameron at podium This morning Tim previewed David Cameron's speech tonight on fighting poverty and concluded that compassionate conservatism is the biggest idea in British politics.

Mr Cameron is indeed delivering the Hugo Young Lecture this evening, and here are the key passages of his speech, in which the Tory leader explains how he wants to see the state play an active role in replacing "Big Government" with "the Big Society":

"The size, scope and role of government in Britain has reached a point where it is now inhibiting, not advancing the progressive aims of reducing poverty, fighting inequality, and increasing general well-being. Indeed there is a worrying paradox that because of its effect on personal and social responsibility, the recent growth of the state has promoted not social solidarity, but selfishness and individualism. But I also want to argue that just because big government has helped atomise our society, it doesn’t follow that smaller government would automatically bring us together again... I believe that in general, a simplistic retrenchment of the state which assumes that better alternatives to state action will just spring to life unbidden is wrong. Instead we need a thoughtful re-imagination of the role, as well as the size, of the state.

"The first step must be a new focus on empowering and enabling individuals, families and communities to take control of their lives so we create the avenues through which responsibility and opportunity can develop. This is especially vital in what is today the front line of the fight against poverty and inequality: education. But I also want to argue that the re-imagined state should not stop at creating opportunities for people to take control of their lives. It must actively help people take advantage of this new freedom. This means a new role for the state: actively helping to create the big society; directly agitating for, catalysing and galvanising social renewal.

"In the fight against poverty, inequality, social breakdown and injustice I do want to move from state action to social action. But I see a powerful role for government in helping to engineer that shift. Let me put it more plainly: we must use the state to remake society.

"Our alternative to big government is not no government - some reheated version of ideological laissez-faire.  Nor is it just smarter government. Because we believe that a strong society will solve our problems more effectively than big government has or ever will, we want the state to act as an instrument for helping to create a strong society. Our alternative to big government is the big society. But we understand that the big society is not just going to spring to life on its own: we need strong and concerted government action to make it happen. We need to use the state to remake society."

"The first step is to redistribute power and control from the central state and its agencies to individuals and local communities. That way, we can create the opportunity for people to take responsibility... A necessary counterpart to decentralisation is greater transparency. That’s because information is power, so by giving people more information we give them more power... The third element of the power shift we want to see is accountability...We will require the people and organisations acting for the state to be directly accountable to the people they are supposed to serve."

"How do we guarantee that the big society advances as big government retreats? This, then, is our new role for the state. Galvanising, catalysing, prompting, encouraging and agitating for community engagement and social renewal. It must help families, individuals, charities and communities come together to solve problems. We must use the state to remake society. We must use the state to help stimulate social action.

"Unless we stimulate social action, we will not create the responsible society that is vital for the success of our policies. Our efforts will focus on three groups... First, we will identify and work directly with the social entrepreneurs who have the capacity to run successful social programmes in communities with the greatest needs... The second group of people we need to engage in our social action strategy are those I would describe as community activists... But the big society also needs the engagement of that significant percentage of the population who have no record of getting involved – or a desire to do so. The big society demands mass engagement: a broad culture of responsibility, mutuality and obligation."

"This new role for government means a new role for Whitehall too – and new skills for civil servants.  They need to become civic servants."

"The era of big government has run its course. Poverty and inequality have got worse, despite Labour’s massive expansion of the state. We need new answers now, and they will only come from a bigger society, not bigger government. That’s why it’s now clear to me that the Conservatives, not Labour, are best placed to fight poverty in our country.”

Jonathan Isaby


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