Sunday, July 13, 2008
Cameron Speech Inspires Major Deja Vu
“We talk about people being ‘at risk of obesity’ instead of talking about people who eat too much and take too little exercise... We talk about people being at risk of poverty, or social exclusion: it’s as if these things — obesity, alcohol abuse, drug addiction — are purely external events like a plague or bad weather. Of course, circumstances — where you are born, your neighbourhood, your school and the choices your parents make — have a huge impact. But social problems are often the consequence of the choices people make.”
Sound familiar? I seem to recall a certain former prime minister telling us that 'society should condemn a little more and understand a little less.' You might also recall a sorry episode initiated by this same politician's crusade to go 'back to basics'. Mind you, I find I don't really disagree with anything Cameron has said here and I wonder if the zeitgeist might be more receptive now to this 'take personal resonsibility' message? Certainly there is frustration aplenty at anti-social behaviour and not much sympathy for fatties, druggies or alkies.
It seems this switch of emphasis is the work of Dave's guru, Steve Hilton, now resident in California we hear. We'll have to watch the polls and subsequent pronouncements by the Shadow Cabinet but I think there's a fair chance Cameron is expressing what people are feeling: always the trick for anyone looking for electoral success.
But at least one Conservative has urged caution. Mathew Parris in The Times yesterday wrote a splendid article on the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor and who is alllowed to pronounce upon their merits and demerits:
Say everything we can and should about the Cameron Conservatives' social inclusiveness and compassion, but when we've said it, it remains the case that the Tories are seen as representing the achievers, the would-be achievers, and the already achieved in society. There isn't any way someone who has made it can moralise about witholding help from someone who hasn't without striking a displeasing note.
He continues in a brutally honest paragraph:
If you are a Tory restricting health or social benefits, don't give a reason. Or not a moral one. Just say the money's run out. Your own moral sense may urge you to offer a moral justification. Resist it. Passing a beggar, don't stop and tell him you don't think money is what he needs, however decent the impulse to explain. Just walk on with a friendly “Sorry but I can't”. He'll know why. Everyone knows why. Trust the unspoken moral instincts of the people, which remain strong and fairly merciless about the undeserving, but don't articulate. You, Mr, Mrs, Ms, Lord or Lady Tory, are not the person.
Strong stuff and I hope the polls show he's right.