Conservative Diary

« The Heffersaurus becomes hi-tech; Simon Heffer prepares to launch Daily Mail Blogs | Main | Villiers: 8% rail fare rise "essential" »

An open letter to David Cameron about his speech on the riots

By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter

Dear Prime Minister,

You were right to say in your speech yesterday that: "This social fight-back is not a job for government on its own...This is a problem that has deep roots in our society, and it’s a job for all of our society to help fix it."

This part of your remarks was completely consistent with your big idea - The Big Society, which so dominated your speech to party conference last year.  But you also made it clear - again, rightly - that the social and security fight-back is also a job for Government.  So here are some questions that follow.

You said -

  •  "Over the next few weeks, I and ministers from across the coalition government will review every aspect of our work to mend our broken society…"

"The next few weeks" is a clear commitment to urgency.  So will the review's conclusions be announced before party conference?

  • "For years we’ve had a police force suffocated by bureaucracy, officers spending the majority of their time filling in forms and stuck behind desks. This won’t be fixed by pumping money in and keeping things basically as they’ve been."

That's right.  It won't.  So will changing things mean giving talented outsiders - not necessarily Bill Bratton, though there's no reason why he should be excluded - the chance to apply to run police forces?

  • Elected police and crime commissioners are part of the answer: they will provide that direct accountability so you can finally get what you want when it comes to policing.
They are. But aren't the proposed areas too big to give local people a real sense of ownership - and thus make accountability work? In my own Thames Valley area, for example, do people in Milton Keynes really identify with people in Marlow.  Do people in Denham, near the edge of London, identify with people in your own Witney constituency?
  • We’re looking at giving [the police] more powers to confiscate offenders’ property – and over the coming months you’re going to see even more.

And I look forward to seeing it.  While we're on the subject of giving the state more powers, are you sure that giving government new powers to shut down social networks is really a good idea?  I can see a case for closing down encrypted systems to prevent or halt riots if necessary, but wouldn't doing the same to, say, Twitter be a step too far?

  • We will fight back against gangs, crime and the thugs who make people’s lives hell and we will fight back hard. The last front in that fight is proper punishment.

Absolutely.  And you would agree that proper punishment must sometimes mean prison.  But how is threatening to send more people to prison consistent with closing approximately 2500 prison places? 

  • So: from here on I want a family test applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keeps people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.

Sorry to be a bore, but this raises the unresolved business of tax help for marriage.  I see that Nadine Dorries and Mark Pritchard are making the case this morning for bringing them forward.  I don't think that they're the most important element of family policy.  But I agree with your long-standing view that they should be a part of it.  Will you be pressing George Osborne to expedite them?

  •  …with a clear ambition that within the lifetime of this Parliament we will turn around the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families in the country.

"A clear ambition"...well, you're right to be cautious.  You complained that your plans in this area are being "held back by bureaucracy", and that you want to "put rocket boosters" under them.  But it's not clear what they are.  The only specific reference was to "parenting programmes".  Are some those recommended by the Centre for Social Justice? And what are your other plans?

  • But with the failures in our education system so deep, we can’t just say ‘these are our plans and we believe in them, let’s sit back while they take effect’. I now want us to push further, faster.

Michael Gove's plan to make more schools academies is one of the successes of the Government to date.  But what will pushing further and faster entail?  Will it mean, for example, making it easier for free schools to set up shop in old buildings?  If so, how does that square with claims this morning that these are running into difficulties?


  • We’re working to develop a way through the morass by looking at creating our own British Bill of Rights...The truth is, the interpretation of human rights legislation has exerted a chilling effect on public sector organisations...It is exactly the same with health and safety.

This is the big one, isn't it?  Since the riots, you and other Ministers have made a series of announcements.  Convicted rioters could lose their council homes.  Even those not jailed could lose their benefits.  Child offenders will be named and shamed.  And so on.  But how on earth is all this compatible with the Human Rights Act? And when, by the way, is the commission looking at a British Bill of Rights going to report?

Which leads to the biggest question of all: namely, what is the Liberal Democrats' view of all this?  And how far are you prepared to go in pressing it on them?

With best wishes,




You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.