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David Cameron begins fight for fairness agenda

By Tim Montgomerie
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The Sunday Telegraph has an interview with the Prime Minister this morning in which David Cameron promises to fight for a fairer Britain. This is all music to my ears. In two posts yesterday I argued (1) that we couldn't become a majority party if we didn't prove we wanted to govern for the whole nation; and (2) if Labour re-established their economic credentials but we didn't fight for our social justice credentials we could be in trouble.

In his Sun Tel column Matthew d'Ancona puts the PM's remarks in the context of recent Tory history and philosophy:

"In general, Conservatives have been suspicious of abstract notions of social justice and fairness, giving a much higher priority to what Isaiah Berlin called “negative liberty” – freedom from interference – to the Oakeshottian intimations of tradition, and the Burkean idea of community... Yet one of the defining characteristics of the Cameroon cohort has been the refusal to let socialists and social democrats have sole ownership of the word “fairness”. The foundations were laid by Iain Duncan Smith – no Cameroon, but a Tory visionary none the less who saw that “social justice” was too important to be left to the Left. In a Demos speech in 2008, George Osborne made a daring raid into the enemy lexicon, annexing the word “fairness” for Conservatives. A fair society, he argued, would have three characteristics. First, people would be “properly rewarded for their effort and ability”. There would be equality of opportunity. And “the current generation should not saddle the next generation with the costs of its own mistakes, be they environmental, social or fiscal”."

Here's the whole must-read column.

In terms of the substance of Mr Cameron's renewed emphasis on fairness the big news is more transparency on executive pay. "Shareholders would have to approve salary packages," The Sunday Telegraph reports "and, crucially, pay-offs, instead of simply having advisory votes as at present".

At the other end of the income scale we get another insight into what 'Tory fairness' means. Chris Grayling talks to The Sunday Times (£) about his plans to make the long-term jobless work for their benefits. “This will help people," Mr Grayling claimed, "who are struggling to get into the labour market to be involved in full-time community activity for 30 hours a week. The alternative is you leave people sitting at home on benefits doing nothing.”

CompassionateRosetteWhen I worked for Iain Duncan Smith in 2003 we found "fairness" was one of the most potent words for voters. It's why he launched his "fair deal for everyone". And what do voters mean by fairness? The best definition of fairness was double-sided. Fairness to those who provided help to the least fortunate as well as help for the least fortunate. In other words, the Revd's William Boechter's Ten Cannots:

"You cannot bring prosperity by discouraging thrift.

You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.

You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.

You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.

You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.

You cannot further brotherhood of men by inciting class hatred.

You cannot establish security on borrowed money.

You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.

You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”

As Cameron develops his fairness agenda he needs to be as focused on the wage payer, initiative, self-help and thrift as much as the weak, 'the poor man' and those in trouble. You cannot have fairness without economic dynamism and the lack of an adequate growth agenda remains a big weakness of this Coalition.

Boechter's Cannots should be on the PM's desk. There are few finer statements of conservatism.


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