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The family-shaped hole in Labour's anti-poverty policies

In today's Observer Richard Reeves of the Demos think tank wants to know if the Tories are "progressive".  By progressive I'm assuming he means concerned about the poor and vulnerable in society - as well as the wealthy and strong.

He lists some of the policy areas where he thinks are the Conservatives are genuine about "progressive conservatism":

  • Hitting the 0.7% of GDP target for international aid spending.
  • Protecting the NHS from spending cuts.
  • A willingness to reduce so-called middle class welfare.

GoveWoodPanels He goes on to welcome early Tory thinking on recapitalising the poor and transferring community assets into mutual ownership.  His article is particularly insightful about the potency of Michael Gove's schools policy:

"Above all, the Conservatives have a progressive trump card in the shape of their education policy, which could smash the middle-class opportunity hoarding made possible by high house prices in the catchment areas of the best schools. The Conservative plans to let money follow the pupil to the school of their parents' choice and, crucially, to add a pupil premium to the poorest children. A Labour cabinet minister said to me five years ago: "If the Conservatives ever go for a vouchers system weighted in favour of the poor, we're in real trouble". They have – and they are."

That Labour cabinet minister is right.  The Tory schools policy could underpin the prospect of a massive political realignment that I've addressed before.  To succeed, however, it also needs to be accompanied by measures that - as soon as it is affordable - start to take low income workers out of the tax system altogether.  Edward Leigh has set out how this might be doneOur Shoestrong Manifesto's ideas on social justice are all worth pursuing, too.

In terms of proving progressive credentials to the Left my guess is that the Conservative leadership would also point to the party's acceptance of homosexual rights, efforts to promote women and ethnic minority candidates and the significant emphasis that the party has placed on civil libertarianism and combating climate change.

FAMILY It is most important, however, that in seeking progress (I prefer the term social justice) that Conservatives are distinctively conservative.  That's the beauty of Gove's schools policy.  It is interesting, therefore, that Richard Reeves attacks the Tories for wanting to support marriage.  The Left still fail to understand the importance of strong families for the defeat of poverty.  Conservatives instinctively know that families are the bedrock of strong societies - providing love, welfare, education, security, identity, social mobility and independence from the state.  David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have led the recovery of that understanding.

While the Left's instinctive reaction to any social problem is to look to the state the conservative will look to the institutions of society, particularly the family.  Families do, of course, come in different shapes and sizes but marriage is at the heart of stable families and financial incentives are important in contributing to family stability.  The Left will never address poverty so long as they are indifferent to family structure.  That blindness gives the Right its great opportunity to become the effective party of social justice.

Tim Montgomerie


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