Can Cameron Fix Society?
Posted by rantingkraut on July 15, 2008
Cameron’s recent speech: “Fixing our Broken Society” sounds suspiciously like the stuff that Blair came up with before he got elected. A lot of it –emphasising personal responsibility as a counterpart to liberty, making schools and the police more accountable– sounds good, but then much of it is too vague to count as a meaningful commitment.
More worryingly, quite a bit of it sounds very naïve. When Cameron talks about ‘treating the causes’ of crime and of ‘our broken society’ he seems to believe that crime can be indirectly eroded through a limited set of benevolent reforms. This raises the question of how he would react if this expectation were to be disappointed, as it was when New Labour had similar ideas.
About knife crime, more specifically, he wants a ‘presumption to prison’ rather than a ‘presumption to prosecute’. I wonder if he thought that through: demanding prosecutions, even if the prospect of conviction is dim, is something the government can plausibly aim for. Demanding a prison sentence, by contrast, leaves the small issue of reaching a guilty verdict and also seems to further erode the independence of the judiciary if mandatory sentences are involved. Presuming a guilty verdict may just be a bit of sloppy language, but it could also indicate readiness to build on one of Blair’s pet projects: inverting the burden of proof.
Cameron’s plans to support families sound promising in general terms. Even the one detail he provides –tax concessions for married couples– can be defended: it could counteract the subsidisation of poor single parent families and thus reduce the extent to which this lifestyle choice becomes artificially attractive in relative terms. This would be a second best solution, but the radical option of not supporting poor single parent households obviously raises ethical issues.
The open question on this issue is: where does it all end? Once the state starts actively promoting morality there is a danger that the tax and benefit systems will eventually provide a differentiated set of tax concessions to those who fine tune their lives to government perceptions of morality. Put concisely: what might be a harmless tax adjustment at one level could mutate into a tax-based, neo-conservative version of social engineering if developed to its logical conclusion.
This last point should also focus attention on one issue Cameron did not address: what to do about Labour’s heritage of relativist regulation. The moral relativism which Cameron bemoans has been backed up by a program of legislation to restrict freedom of contract and association as well as freedom of speech. This relativism, in fact, is the embodiment of what New Labour regards as morally sound. Cameron did not say whether he plans to repeal those regulations. If he doesn’t and if he merely adds his own social engineering agenda, the outcome could well be an incoherent mix of interfering but ultimately ineffective regulations, incentives and prohibitions.
Maybe a party leader needs to sound like Blair to win elections. Maybe all my reservations are misplaced. For the moment, though, there are too many open questions for any friend of liberty to simply lean back and enjoy Browns destruction.
2 Responses to “Can Cameron Fix Society?”
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.