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.
Throughout this week, 31st August to 6th September, ConservativeHome is reaffirming some of our core themes. We started yesterday with our hope that the next Conservative government will act to renew a sense of British history and pride. Jeremy Hunt MP explores that theme today - examining sport's contribution to national identity.
Today in a very draft set of suggestions for the speech that David Cameron will give in a month's time - at the Manchester Party Conference - I've put together other topics that are regular concerns of this blog. It is not a 'wordsmithed' speech but underlines the themes we hope the Tory leader might address.
I want to start by thanking every person in this hall and members of the Conservative Party listening or watching at home for all you do. Most of you do not get paid. Supporting the Conservative Party actually costs a lot of you a lot of money. You do it because you believe that the country you love can be better. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. No Conservative MP would be elected if it wasn’t for you. I promise that I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget that it is a privilege to be the leader of this great party.
QUICKLY INTO> In recent times some MPs did forget their privileged position. They were a minority but they brought disgrace to every politician. Saying sorry is not going to be enough to put things right. So let me offer some concrete steps that will start us on the long, hard road back to the point where the British people might begin to respect their Parliament again:
Another step forward for democracy will come from a little more honesty from politicians. So let me say this to every person in this country who is thinking of voting Conservative. The party of the red flag has left Britain in the red again. Deep, deep red.
I can't think of a way of writing this politely so I'll just write it directly: Julian Glover's article about the Conservative Party in this morning's Guardian is flawed from start to finish.
Four of his arguments and my four responses:
Over the last week I've been proposing cost-free policies that a Tory Government should introduce as part of a 'Shoestring Manifesto' (for the environment, social justice, fairness in the media, democratic renewal and patriotism). In the ConHome monthly survey I asked readers for their own ideas and without necessarily approving of them I publish twenty of them below:
(1) Abolish the right to apply for retrospective planning permission. This would stop travellers planting themselves in a field on Saturday morning, applying for retrospective permission to be there on Monday. Local Authorities wouldn't have to face the ire of their electorate when they decline to go to judicial review of an inspector's decision to overturn the planning committee's refusal of permission.
(2) Amend the smoking ban, to cater for choice, and respect property rights in relation thereto.
(3) Remove the ban on fox hunting.
(4) National Flags flown from Town Halls.
(5) Repeal 24 hour drinking laws...at the moment 3 out of every A & E admissions between midnight and 5 am are alcohol related.
(6) Impose a ban on hospital staff wearing their uniforms in public to reduce hospital infections.
(7) Abolish one existing law or regulation for every new law or regulation introduced.
(8) ALL lighting for advertising purposes only should be switched off at midnight.
(9) Reform the curriculum to make history compulsory for 14-16 year olds, with an emphasis on British political, social cultural and constitutional history since 1500. Do this and all the nonsense talk about what it is to be British will vanish within a few years.
(10) Reinforce the notion that the Englishman's home is his castle... Anybody entering without invitation should lose all rights - including risk of harm from the householder.
In the fifth (and, for the moment, final) part of ConservativeHome's 'Shoestring manifesto' we look at ways of improving the natural environment. In the first four parts we examined action on patriotism and history, improving our democracy, fairness in media and social justice.
The environment has been a signature issue for David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative Party. But how will his blue-green message translate into an agenda for government? Even if you leave the issue of climate change to one side, there are strong security and competitiveness grounds for renewing Britain’s ageing energy infrastructure. Obviously, this comes with a big price tag and, just as obviously, Labour didn’t mend this particular roof when the sun was shining. Unless we’re OK with the lights going out, failing to secure the necessary investment is not an option. Constructing a policy framework capable of minimising the cost to the consumer is an enormous task and somewhat beyond the scope of this shoestring manifesto, but that still leaves a number of areas where a Conservative could make an immediate cost-free impact on the environmental agenda.
Radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy: We must press for immediate and radical reform of those twin environmental disaster zones – the CAP and the CFP. In fact, British control over both these areas should be repatriated and, where necessary, appropriate cross-border agreements negotiated on a regional basis. My fear is that this would be over Ken Clarke's dead body. When he joined Cameron's frontbench he signed up to existing European policy and no further scepticism.
Energy efficiency: The number one priority for energy policy should be energy efficiency improvements, which not only have the potential to pay for themselves and actually save money – but also address social priorities like job creation and tackling fuel poverty. The Party has already announced a widely acclaimed nationwide loan scheme for household efficiency improvements that would be paid back through energy bills from the energy savings thus made.*
Ending Whitehall's green hypocrisy: Ministers should practice what they preach on energy efficiency by sorting out their ministerial headquarters. It is little short of disgraceful that the Government estate is so energy inefficient and that the building that houses the Department of Energy and Climate Change has the lowest possible efficiency rating! If a Conservative Government wants to stop wasting taxpayers’ money, it should stop wasting energy for a start.*
So far in ConHome's 'Shoestring manifesto' we have examined ways of celebrating Britain, improving our democracy and creating a fairer media environment. In today's fourth chapter of this cost-free manifesto we examine immediate steps that will deliver more social justice.
David Cameron will probably keep reorganisation of Whitehall to a minimum but he might create one new department to focus on social justice. A hot tip to lead this would be Iain Duncan Smith although it's just as likely he will chair a powerful Social Justice Select Committee as proposed by Peter Luff MP on these pages. In today's Spectator James Forsyth notes speculation that Oliver Letwin might become Energy & Climate Change Secretary in government and that portfolio's current holder, Greg Clark, would get the Social Justice role. Either IDS or Greg Clark would be convincing choices given their long-held interest in poverty-fighting policies.
Most of the big action on social justice will remain in the existing departments (charitable tax relief in Treasury for example... education reform with Michael Gove... prisons reform at Justice... eliminating the couple penalty in the benefit system at DWP and so on) but the 'DfSJ' could focus on delivering some of the compassionate pledges that require no or little extra money. Here are some:
* Denotes existing Tory commitments. Most are recommendations from the Centre for Social Justice or my own.
The Shoestring Manifesto is all about worthwhile, cost-free projects for a Conservative government in the 'age of austerity'. On Monday we looked at transforming appreciation of Britain and its history. Yesterday we proposed ideas to improve our democracy. Today we look at delivering greater fairness in public subsidy of the media.
Two media entities in the UK receive more public subsidy than any other: the BBC and The Guardian. The BBC most of all, of course, through the licence fee. The Guardian also receives significant public subsidy via the huge public sector jobs supplements that it carries. The ideological bias of The Guardian is self-proclaimed. The biases of the BBC are hotly disputed but I direct readers to here, here and here for background reading. Even without accepting that the BBC and Guardian come from left-liberal ideological perspectives there is a strong case for ensuring greater fairness in the flow of public money to the media. The Shoestring manifesto recommends two policies:
Within the media section of The Shoestring Manifesto there also should be much stricter regulation of the BBC's expansionary tendencies. Always wanting to occupy new areas it threatens media starts ups and, consequently, journalistic diversity.
In yesterday's first instalment of ConHome's 'Shoestring Manifesto' we proposed that the next Conservative government aim to radically improve the teaching of British history, to designate a national day and to ensure better care for our military as part of a commitment to patriotic renewal. Today we look at ideas to improve our democracy.
Here are a few other commitments that the Conservatives should promise:
It is increasingly obvious that the next Conservative government will have to make drastic cuts in public spending. Rebalancing the books will be the task of David Cameron's hoped for premiership. It may be that this exercise of national salvation will be enough to ensure re-election but it will also be important for a Conservative government to deliver other results for voters. Over the next few days ConHome will be suggesting contents for 'A Shoestring Manifesto' - a manifesto that contains important policy changes that won't cost a penny. We start with ideas on patriotism.
I've already trailed ideas on patriotism (and David Cameron has responded) but it's important enough to be repeated! It's difficult to love your country if you know little about it and far too many Britons know very, very little about their country (click here). The next Conservative manifesto shouldn't have patriotism as a theme for the footnotes but as a big idea.
Chris Grayling MP, Shadow Home Secretary, will be addressing ConHome at the Manchester Party Conference on the subject of patriotism. We will record his remarks so non-attendees can watch what he has to say.
Email me if you have thoughts for The Shoestring Manifesto.