We need a state that helps people who do the right thing
I remember meeting some parents of inner city kids a few years ago. They told me that the whole system was weighted against them. Kids who misbehaved at school got more attention from teachers. Teenagers who terrorised the community were let off again and again by the police. "Welfare layabouts" were as well off as those do took low-paid jobs. People rarely got caught if they fiddled the system and those that did weren't punished. There was no reward for those families who did the right thing.
A society cannot survive if it is not built on people of good character. Many laissez faire conservatives argue against any government role in civilising young people but the costs of dysfunctionality are borne by every taxpayer. We all have an interest in reducing that dysfunctionality and promoting good character. We do so first by doing no harm (eg by stopping the disincentives to form two parent families) and second, and more controversially, by promoting good character (eg incentives to volunteer and donate to good causes).
"I know this is tricky territory for a politician. We're not exactly paragons of virtue ourselves. But to those who think politics should stay away from issues of character and behaviour, I say this: When there are more than 120,000 deaths each year related to obesity, smoking, alcohol and drug misuse. When millions of schoolchildren miss out on learning because their classmates are constantly disruptive. When British families are drowning in nearly one and a half trillion pounds worth of personal debt. And then ask yourself: do any of these problems relate to personal choices that people make? Or are they all somehow soluble by top down government action, unrelated to what people actually choose to do? Can we hope to solve these problems if we just ignore character and behaviour?"
The question of the "how" is what Cameron begins to address in his speech to Demos and talks about policy action to promote families and good schools in particular. Read a full PDF of the speech.
I hope Demos won't be a major influence on this agenda. This Left-wing think tank has courted the Conservatives in recent times as they have striven to 'stay in business' during a period of Tory ascendancy. Their opposition to support for marriage suggests to me that they don't 'get it'.
PS When I set up the Renewing One Nation unit (the predecessor to the CSJ) inside Conservative HQ in 2000 we had three aims: Investing in Families, Strengthening Communities and, most relevant today, Building Character. David Willetts, Oliver Letwin, Gary Streeter and David Lidington were our principal sponsors at that time. My colleagues were Peter Franklin, Robert Halfon, Guy Hordern, Cameron Watt and Karen West. It is encouraging to these ideas taking off under David Cameron's leadership.
By way of further footnote our renewingoinenation.com website domain wasn't maintained and now promotes Thigh High Red Boots!