David Cameron: passionate, authentic, and postmodern.
He touched on health, education, taxation, defence, foreign affairs, immigration, the economy, the EU, and all the necessary meta-narratives of modern political discourse. He may have been short on policy detail, but there were sufficient broad sweeps to communicate the essence of what those policies corporately will attempt to achieve. It is to be a programme of societal cohesion, compassion, and the family. The orthodox Conservative themes will be fused with the ‘sensitive and humane’, and the state will intervene at breakfast, lunch and dinner in order to realise the vision.
Labour has failed to solve the problems of poverty and social exclusion because it has relied too much on state programmes which ‘treat people like statistics and not human beings’. And the best welfare system of all ‘is called the family’, Mr Cameron added. A Conservative government would not ‘ignore the state of family breakdown in Britain. I think we have to try and do something about it’. The benefits system could have the ‘crazy’ effect of encouraging people to stay apart, he said. The welfare system would be changed to reward rather than penalise couples. ‘And yes, I believe we should recognise marriage in the tax system as well’. And businesses would be encouraged to provide more flexible hours so that workers can spend more time with their families.
Mr Cameron was at his strongest when he contrasted his personal qualities with those of Prime Minister Brown; when he offered a New Conservative vision to supplant the prospect of another drab decade of Not-So-New Labour; when his raw authenticity was juxtaposed with Gordon Brown’s wooden plagiarism.
But the starkest statement, and the most concerning realisation, was put quite simply: ‘The old politics is failing, and change is required’.
Indeed it is, but neither the Conservative Party nor Mr Cameron are immune from the corrosive effects of the apathy, contempt and derision which infect modern politics. By talking of trust, he has raised the stakes, raised expectations, and placed his personal integrity on the line.
Mr Cameron insisted that the NHS must be answerable to patients and doctors and not politicians. Yet the interests of doctors and patients are not always the same, and politicians are to remain responsible for financing the monolith. And schools are to be set free, headteachers are to become omnipotent, but he is rigidly prescriptive about what should be done to raise standards. He was Blairite in his proposals to reform of public services, trumpeting the buzz words of choice, diversity and innovation, yet he and his party opportunistically oppose the closure of some local services which come as a direct consequence of Blairite reforms. There were hints of higher spending on defence, as well as an assurance to maintain the Government's existing spending plans, yet there were promises of more tax cuts for businesses. And Mr Cameron says on the one hand, concerning the EU Constitution: ‘Are we really saying to people, when it comes to how your country is governed, you can't have a say?’ He asserts unequivocally: ‘That is wrong’. Yet he leads the Party which has removed so many voting rights from its own members, and promulgated the perception that neither CCHQ nor the Parliamentary Party trust the wider Party membership.
In evidence is a willingness to combine symbols from disparate codes or frameworks of meaning, even at the cost of disjunctions and eclecticism. There is spontaneity, fragmentation, superficiality and irony. Mr Cameron is evidently a formidable politician for the postmodern age, who has promises a ‘revolution’ in freedom and control, with more accountability. He is impressive, and his vision is laudable. Cranmer would simply prefer for judgement to begin at home.