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Cameron's two pathways to the dismantling of the centralised, powerful state

Interviewed by Fraser Nelson for the latest edition of The Spectator, David Cameron says he has four priorities: “The deficit, Afghanistan, the broken society and mending the mess of our politics.”

But what do these priorities add up to?  What is 'Cameronism'?  What is the vision?


In the main feature for the latest edition of Prospect magazine, The Guardian's Julian Glover attempts to answer those questions and does so persuasively.  The article's introduction is here but the full copy is only available to subscribers.

Two big themes emerge: (1) information and (2) society.

Glover writes:

"The starting point will be to flood the public sector with information. No budget will be secret or hard to track down. Go to the website of a government agency at the moment, and it is all but impossible to discover what it spends or what its top staff are paid. Cameron’s team place great faith in technology and openness as a substitute for the bodies that control public service provision. They point to price comparison websites such as Do not underestimate the immediate impact of massive doses of information, they say, pointing to what happened when MPs’ expenses were revealed."

Then there is this:

"The most important soundbite of his leadership was his first: “There is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same as the state.”"

Do these make sense to you as two pathways to a smaller state?  One path is an information revolution that produces internet-age accountability for the state.  As Glover notes, that internet-age transparency has already produced a revolution in the Commons.  What will it do to local government? To the NHS? To the BBC?

The Cameroons hope this transparency will produce a leaner more effective state but the aim isn't just to streamline government (building on the EasyCouncil model of Barnet and other pioneering Tory-run local authorities).  There is also the ambition to build up society because, it's worth repeating, “There is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same as the state.”  As the person who helped put together the 2002 book, There is such a thing as society, I can only say 'Amen'.  This second pathway is at least as important.  In the anti-government view of the world there is only a smaller and smaller state and bigger, stronger individuals.  In the social conservative's view of the world there is much more interest in healthier families, more independent voluntary organisations and stronger, local schools.  It is at least as much about being pro-society as being pro-market.

Julian Glover's piece captures the frustration of the small circle that surrounds David Cameron.  He writes of "loneliness" and "anxiety" in that circle.  A crude message of shrinking the state would be immediately understandable and might endear them to the headline-writers.  David Cameron's message is more difficult-to-communicate in soundbites but it has a greater chance of long-term success.  The state won't be dismantled from on high but will be reformed by dissatisfied patients and parents as the state is opened up to a million searchlights.  And as the state is reformed from the bottom up it won't just be the state that will be changing.  Society will be changing too.  Policies on family, charitable giving, welfare and schools will begin an enlargement in the scope of the institutions of the free society.

Do make an effort to read the full piece (ignoring the silly reference to malaria and Euroscepticism at the end).  Prospect costs £4.50 on newstands.  Julian Glover's piece alone justifies the price.

Tim Montgomerie


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