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I think he is - and this article summarises why his speech the other day made me feel uneasy.

Either there's a case for legislation in a particular area or there isn't, but this 'nudging us in the right direction' business is a)insidious and b)ineffective. We've had too much of it with Labour.

I wouldn't say it is totally ineffective though as inaction isn't a neutral position - it can have as much consequence as action. If a government says one thing, and does another - its actions will probably win out in the long-run.

I disagree Valerie. I like DC's 'libertarian paternalism' although I don't like James Harkin's phrase for it. The American phrase for this phenomenon is the bully pulpit. From the bully pulpit, public figures lecture companies or individuals who do the wrong thing but stop short of legislating against them. They aspire to be culture-changers, rather than law-changers. I think it is a perfectly respectable position.

As Fraser Nelson wrote in this week's Spectator: "effective government does not just mean passing laws, but also moulding popular culture."

Fraser continued:

"Mr Cameron has repeatedly ventured into ‘non-governmental politics’. He has criticised WH Smith for promoting cut-price chocolate bars at its counters, chided fashion chains for prematurely sexualising girls and taken issue with rappers who glorify violence. The Conservatives have no intention of banning cheap chocolate, censoring Radio 1 or imposing a minimum age for miniskirts. Their strategy is to connect directly with the public via talk radio, the web and newspapers.

For Cameron’s inner circle, however, this is about more than appealing communication and presentation. They genuinely believe that politicians can shape society by leading and shaping national debate, and that this can be more effective than passing laws. WH Smith, for example, was temporarily shamed into withdrawing its chocolate-with-the-newspaper offer from several stores. The most powerful example cited by the Cameronians is drink-driving, which they believe was conquered because it became a social taboo, rather than by the formality of law-making.

This is what Mr Cameron meant in a speech on Tuesday when he said that ‘the new politics works by persuasion, not by power’. His much-hyped statement on the family was in effect a declaration that he supported the institution, but would not do much specifically to bolster it — and that there was no question of radical welfare laws of the sort passed by Bill Clinton."

On the whole I do like the idea of "non-governmental politics" (although non-legislative politics would be a more accurate description) but I don't like the idea of it spilling into areas of legimitate and urgently needed government action... like "radical welfare laws".

Yes - government inaction is very often the better option.

What I meant by 'ineffective' is that it makes the government dodge the issue of whether to legislate or not - it leads to woolly thinking and everything becomes one big fudge...

I just don't see it as a function of government to suggest behaviour to us. Its job is to decide on the law and then enforce it.

I think we should leave the nannying to parents. If for some reason that very natural function isn't working, we need to look at why - but for the state to take over the role of culture-changer? No thanks.

Can we have a bit of AND here?

Libertarian paternalism - bully pulpit lecturing - AND a promise that the second year of a Conservative Government (a year to take stock) will be about no new laws just simplifying and reducing legislation (no new laws, no expanding legislative grip through so-called simplification but de-criminalisation, less legallly enforced nanny state, less red tape for individuals and businesses).

If we roll back the state then I'm happy to be lectured at.

I think Cameron is in the middle of developing a compelling review of how government can best affect change. Over the past 9 years we have seen a government legislate like no other with little apparent effect. Equally damaging is New Labour's tendency (especially in the early days) for hyperbolic statements. They raise the public's expectations of government and then disappoint when they can't deliver.

Cameron acolytes have already discussed how the government as a prominent employer can deliver best practice and lead the private sector. Now he seems to be developing a style of government by leadership rather than legislation. Conservatives have always understood the limitations of the state, but now need to develop a positive framework than recognises both this and the electorate’s expectations for delivery.

David Cameron is an oxymoron at the moment.

Anyone can stand up and talk about good practice, though. Why should we pay a government to do that?

(We've had the worst of both worlds from Labour - too much legislation and too much lecturing...)

If Cameron isn't a libertarian paternalist than I have backed the wrong man. He said in an article in the Guardian a long time before he was a leadership contender that he was "instinctively libertarian". David Willets says that a conservative is a free marketeer who becomes a parent. It seems to me that a libertarian-conservative attitude informs both their thinking.

That is exactly where I suspect the vast bulk of the lost Tory voters are too. Governmental social engineering has been disastrous, we don't want a nanny state active in every area of our lives. For example we don't want our kids to eat junk snacks composed of salt and sugar, but we don't the state to censor consumer advertising either. We know it is safer to wear seatbelts yet we don't want to go to jail for refusing to clunk click.

Even so public figures such as politicians and even celebrities from popular culture can play a role by setting an example and encouraging positive behaviour. Some of our problems are arguably the result of a failing culture - crime is the one that comes to mind. How many criminals come from fatherless families? The state has very little power to improve that situation, in fact the growth of the welfare state probably enabled men to shirk their responsibilities more easily.

Legislation doesn't make us virtuous, so politicians should stop trying to legislate our choices aways. Non-governmental politics has the added advantage that it is not a burden on the taxpayer.

I must be the opposite of a libertarian paternalist, then - I believe in giving people economic and other incentives for socially desirable behaviour, not the "give them money, then scold them for taking it" approach that has dominated Britain for decades. Children are better off in two-parent families with their biological father - so encourage that with the tax structure, don't scold women for being non-working single mothers while simultaneously making that the only economically attractive option.

Non-governmental politics has the added advantage that it is not a burden on the taxpayer.

In that case let's leave it to non-politicians. There are charities out there that promote healthy eating - the British Heart Foundation, for example.

I'll pay politicians to do nothing any day.

I am sure that Simon Newman is right - place the economic incentives on behaviour you wish to encourage, make speeches of encouragement and then get out of the way.

If one thinks of the individuals who have had the greatest (in terms of numbers) influence to lead 'better' lives over people, both in this country and the States, over the last 50yrs, I think it has be Billy Graham.

I know a lot of people on this website will hardly know who he was/is, hopefully,for the sake of the thesis some will.

Thousands of people in this country alone were influenced to try and improve their lives (before the 'permissive society' took over!).

Unfortunately nowadays the English church is busy strangling itself in a thicket, and can't command enough respect to hold such a wide audience as Graham used to get. And there is no other non-political representative who could take on that role. But we do need it I think.

I am sure that ten years ago when inner city disruption was beginning to be seen as needing proper attention, but before it had spread to towns and smaller towns, as it has now, that Tony Blair really had a kind of Messianic idea that he could infuse people with ideas of 'bettering' themselves. He failed to face up to the fact - even then, that people do NOT trust politicians, they have to put up with them, in order to keep society running. So when his words and theory's were proved inneffectual, he resorted to endless law-making, which of course has been even more useless!

I agree with Tim's theory (well what I have just posted is roughly in line with that I think). But Sam 'If a government says one thing and does another - its actions will probably win out in the long run', I do not agree with. If I understand what you are saying exactly, that is one of the reasons that people so distrust politicians now.

This isn't the first article (the Guardian one, that is) to make mention of this phase of Cameronism. It's about standing up and speaking honestly about your concerns as a leader in your community - without necessarily reaching for the legislative stick. Put like that, it sounds like real Toryism to me, the opposite of legis-itis that infects the Blair regime. We are all sick of the direction we see our communities disintegrating towards, but we are all allergic to the idea that the way to fix it is to pass a few laws. As Mr Cameron has remarked often - we are all in this together - and that means understanding that there's a limit to what a government can do; but not that he doesn't have a duty to make his views clear to the voters as well. I have found it liberating. You *can* be a Tory *and* get really hacked off by newsagents pushing chocolate at an overly obese nation, just like you'd get hacked off if they pushed cigarettes at teenagers, without thinking we need a white paper to deal with the issue.

I think we broadly agree Patsy (and I also agree with Tim).

People will quickly get turned off by talk not backed up by "walk". The government should certainly advise us on best practice with these matters, but I do worry that not institutionalising some of the "advice" in some way will mean it is easily lost when the next crowd come into power.

Valerie, the point is, "nudging" with the power of the state is a form of coercion. That's why people hate it. Doesn't matter whether it's carrot or stick, the politician on your back still thinks you're an ass.

DC appears to recognize that (1) good/evil and legal/illegal are different and ought to be seperate - which is what New Labour doesn't get, and (2) that despite the above, supporting good and damning evil are still important - which is what a lot of libertarians don't get.

I'm not a libertarian, I just don't like the idea of top-down lecturing from central government, or that it can be some sort of effective substitute for other sources of authority and advice.

Politicians will and should always make speeches supporting good - but I don't think it should become a replacement for the proper exercise of government and taking wise decisions. Of course, very many times out of ten those decisions should be not to legislate, or to devolve the decision downwards.

If true, I wouldn't have a problem with the idea. Society cannot function successfully without norms and morals. Yet it is illiberal to have them imposed by the state. To avoid a moral vacuum or anarchy on the one hand, and New Labour style tyranny on the other, requires a strong society eg allow people to be disrespectful towards one another but frown on it. Whether politicians or government should be part of the norm setting and enforcing process is perhaps more debateable, but I don't see any contradiction between saying that companies shouldn't try and get children hooked on bad foods (fair enough) and not banning schools from having vending machines.

This sounds similar to Traditional Toryism: keeping the government off of peoples' backs but having clear opinions on certain issues. A smaller state can help foster a conservative society by allowing independent institutions to flourish (the voluntary sector etc) and refraining from social engineering to change the natural order (allowing schools to set their own admissions criteria for example).

I like the sound of this approach, but I just don't like the choice of words like 'paternalist'. Any social leader has to be active, and a good Prime Minister should be a social leader as well as a political leader, therefore I certainly believe that a Prime Minister can speak out and advocate, for example, charitable giving, and warn against abortion. Certainly the more respected a social leader is, the more impact this will have, and so long as a leader is preaching responsible messages, this should be a good thing. However, it's when the social leader and the political leader come together and form a bond that the danger for many people comes, because the political leader wants to put in legislation to back up what the social leader says. I think David Cameron is not the kind of leader who wants to impose his choices on society at large through the kind of legislation we've come to expect from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, therefore this approach of his may come good, though it may not be until the Conservatives are actually in government that it will have much impact.

Actually an advantage of this approach is that there's a great deal that can be set in motion without needing to win an election first. Since you're planning to encourage rather than legislate, you can get started doing that from the opposition benches.

From the speech:

"So for the Conservative Party today, it's not just a case of the war on lone parents
being over.

The weapons have been put beyond use."

Which "war on lone parents" was that, then?

Why are we letting our opponents define us in this way?

Richard and Mark are right this is the sort of approach we want, and Julian is right about it being something that we can do in opposition. When DC spoke out he was noticed and the firms concerned had to react. The moral push rather than legislation. It got him noticed, solved the problem and left TB and the Fife Fumbler wrong footed. They didn't have time to unleash Dr Reid and send him out to make up some on the spot law.

This approach gets us noticed, solves the problem, saves filling Hansard with another few pages of impossible legislation, what more do you want?

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