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Compassionate conservatism is the biggest idea in British politics

CAMERON-AT-CSJ-LARGE Later today David Cameron will make a major speech on his approach to fighting poverty. To coincide with the speech he has nominated Debbie Scott to the House of Lords.  Debbie Scott is CEO of Tomorrow's People, a charity working with the long-term unemployed, and she co-chaired the Social Justice Policy Group with Iain Duncan Smith. A terrific appointment and I congratulate Debbie very warmly.

David Cameron has pursued compassionate conservatism from the first day he became Tory leader.  There are an increasing number of policy pledges that substantiate his commitment and the appointment of Iain Duncan Smith to co-ordinate poverty-fighting policy is one of the most significant confirmations of the agenda's importance to the Conservative leader.

Compassionate Conservatism is the biggest idea in British politics

Labour'sApproach It's big for two main reasons:

  • Labour has failed in the war on poverty. Some progress has certainly been made but Gordon Brown focused on the easiest work of lifting people just below the poverty line to just above it. Severe poverty has actually got worse and that was before the recession struck. Youth unemployment is the worst in Europe. Educational inequalities are widening dramatically. Labour has no agenda for the family and remains stubbornly, ideologically indifferent to the evidence about the importance of marriage.
  • The world has not seen a centre right party take poverty as seriously as Cameron's Conservatives are determined to take it.  In my recent post on realignment I argued that the addition of a genuinely conservative, genuinely radical commitment to social justice - if pursued alongside more familar Tory policies - could create the opportunity for the Tories to dominate British politics for a generation.

Compassionate conservatives believe that family, school and work are the three keys to fighting poverty

In essence the Conservative Party's social justice policy is rooted in a belief that three things will keep people out of poverty: (1) A strong family; (2) A good education; and (3) A job. In each of those three areas the party has already developed important policies. A few of these are summarised in the graphic below:

ThreeBigThemes It is clear that this is not a laissez-faire approach to poverty-fighting.  It is a conservative approach that actively seeks to build institutions and incentive structures that encourage stable family life, good schools and steady, rewarding work. It embraces the importance of topping up incomes and retaining a reasonably-set minimum wage.

What about the people without strong families and who missed out on a good education?

The Conservatives want to build what David Cameron has called 'the nation of the second chance':

"For the mum who got pregnant as a teenager the nation of the second chance will enable her to study when she's 35. The nation of the second chance will offer rehab to the man who has frittered away his twenties on drugs. The nation of the second chance will find a warm home and a job for the man who has slept rough since he ran away from the father that abused him."

Within the Conservative vision there will be income security for every vulnerable person and empowerment of the voluntary, faith-based and community groups that prove that every problem is being solved by somebody, somewhere.

Does the Conservative Party share David Cameron's commitment?

An increasing number of the shadow cabinet regard this one nation mission as central to their politics. In particular, they include Greg Clark, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Oliver Letwin, Theresa May, Caroline Spelman and David Willetts. This is no longer a small constituency within the party. There was also the historic moment - recorded in the video below - at the last Tory Conference when David Cameron addressed Labour's failure on poverty and the Tory membership rose to their feet. Those who have witnessed the enthusiastic reception that IDS consistently receive at local Conservative Association suppers would not have been surprised. The Conservative Party as a whole is ready for this mission.

Tim Montgomerie


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