Conservatives are today campaigning on mending the broken society. David Cameron has addressed the issues of crime and violence so far largely ignored by the other parties in this General Election campaign.
Anti-knife crime campaigner Brooke Kinsella has agreed to take on an ambassadorial role in a new Conservative Government (DV) for flagship youth mentoring and engagement projects in each of the hundred most deprived wards in England and Wales. She would head a small panel of young people to work with the new Government in identifying the projects that should receive support, and also to establish a means of tracking their progress without imposing great bureaucracies upon them.
David Camerons speech:
Brooke Kinsella is here today because one night, nearly two years ago now, her brother Ben had his life taken from him in the most violent and tragic way.
Just a few months before his death, Ben had written a creative writing piece for his English GCSE, imagining what it would be like to be killed by a knife.
With Brooke’s permission, I’m going to read some of it out.
“Everything feels cold. Numbness persists. As I stare up at my killer-to-be he feels not the slightest measure of remorse at what he has just committed. Instead his dark smile sickens me in ways I couldn't imagine.”
It is heartbreaking beyond belief that while out celebrating the end of those GCSEs, Ben’s vision of his own death became true.
Ben Kinsella has been added to a long list of victims who are now household names.
Rhys Jones. Gary Newlove. Sukhwinder Singh. Damilola Taylor. Jimmy Mizen.
And there’s a name you might not know.
He was the boy who was chased into Victoria Station by a gang of school children and stabbed in front of crowds of commuters.
Just think about that.
It was about twenty past five in the afternoon, when people were making their way home, thinking about where they’d go out that night or what they’d have for dinner – when a boy lay bleeding and dying on the floor of the busy station.
Let me say that again: this happened at rush hour.
And he was a boy – not a youth, not a thug, not a faceless member of a gang – but a boy who loved playing football with Acton Garden Village Youth Sunday league team, who had talent and a future until that day in Victoria Station.
In the week after his death some flowers appeared there on the floor of the station, some lovely bright yellow daffodils that someone had laid there, but the bustle of the station soon swallowed up the shock of what had happened.
And that’s why I’m here – and why Brooke is here – today.
There’s a danger that we as a society can slowly become immune to events like this.
Each time the shock is a little bit slighter, a little bit quicker to pass.
And as our sensitivity gets coarsened, we get a step further away from what it is to be civilised.
So I think it is time to be honest about what has been happening in our country.
There has always been violence.
There has always been evil.
But there is something about the frequency of these crimes – the depravity of these crimes, that betrays a deep and fundamental problem in Britain today.
As I have argued for many years now, these acts of murder and abuse are just the most violent and horrific expressions of what I have called the broken society.
I know I’ve been criticised for saying our society is broken and I know I will be again.
But I am saying this as I see it.
When you see schools that have metal detectors at their entrance.
When you see fire engines called out on a hoax only to be pelted with bricks.
When you see people with disabilities abused on the streets because they are in a wheelchair.
When you see people take their lives because they’ve become so overwhelmed by out-of-control debt and they can’t bear to tell their family.
When you see addicts whose only daily event is the queue to get some methadone to take the edge off life for a little bit.
When you see those who have never worked, who have no shape to their day or structure to their life and the grim grind of hopelessness is there in their eyes, your inner voice says – something is fundamentally not right here.
Something is broken. Society is broken.
The broken society is not one thing alone.
It is not just the crime.
It is a whole stew of violence, anti-social behaviour, debt, addiction, family breakdown, educational failure, poverty and despair.
This is life – or the backdrop of life – for millions of people in this country.
So how should we respond?
The first response – the human response – is to feel unutterably sad at so much waste.
Wasted hopes. Wasted potential. Wasted lives.
But sadness and anger aren’t going to change anything on their own.
Mending the broken society needs head as well as heart.
It requires us to have an understanding of what has gone wrong as well as a clear approach to putting things right.
And my argument today is this.
We have arrived at this point in our society for a number of reasons, many completely divorced from politics and what government does.
But I am certain that government is a big part of the problem – its size has now reached a point where it is actually making our social problems worse.
That’s because by trying to do too much, it has drained the lifeblood of a strong society – personal and social responsibility.
And the biggest victims are those at the bottom, who suffer most when crime rises and educational standards fall.
They are the victims of state failure. They are the victims of big government.
There is, I believe, only one way out of this national crisis – and that is what I have called the Big Society.
A society where we see social responsibility, not state control, as the principal driving force for social progress.
A society where we come together, and work together, to solve problems.
A society where we remember every day that we’re all in this together.
And today, I want to make the case for the values that should drive the creation of the Big Society - and the policy agenda that flows from those values.
It requires, I believe, drawing on the deepest values of Conservatism, giving power to people not the state, strengthening families, encouraging responsibility, common sense and rigour, and applying these values to the key aims of improving the lives of people in our country – especially the very poorest.
Progressive ends. Conservative means.
That’s the guiding philosophy of any future Conservative government.
I want to explain why this particular combination – progressive and conservative – is the way to tackle the problems that have defeated policymakers for decades.
The approach we offer is profoundly different to what any government has done before.
It ranges from the more conventional means such as improving policing and schooling, to the politically more difficult things like supporting families and backing commitment.
I believe we have the right weapons in our armoury to be the ones who finally confront social breakdown – and start winning the battle.
And today, I want to set out the key elements of this pioneering approach - the progressive conservative approach - to mending our broken society and building the Big Society.
The process of mending our broken society must begin with an understanding of what has gone wrong.
There are the concrete characteristics of our broken society – the violent crime, teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol addiction, family breakdown, debt, worklessness, inequality – which have been bad for decades.
And there is the less tangible feeling, that we have been slowly losing the value of responsibility in our society...
...a sense that more and more people are less concerned about their responsibility to themselves, their duty to their family, their obligation to their community.
This is something we can trace back to cultural changes and shocks that have been going on for decades at least.
So I’m not going to pretend that the broken society was born under this Labour government.
But I do believe that, after thirteen years, it is reasonable for us to evaluate Labour’s effectiveness in dealing with our biggest social problems.
Because the evidence – as well as our instincts – shows that our social problems are getting worse, not better.
The poorest are getting poorer.
Social mobility has stalled.
Teenage pregnancy is the worst in Western Europe.
Levels of family breakdown are some of the highest in Europe.
Violent against the person has risen since Labour came to power.
Drug offences are up seventy percent.
There are now 10,000 incidents of anti-social behaviour every day.
And one in six children now grow up in a home where no one works.
These are astonishing statistics.
And what makes them more astonishing is that, for the past decade, the state has been hyperactive in its attempts to deal with these problems.
It has pumped record amounts of money in, passed record numbers of laws, and collected and stored record amounts of information about its citizens in its growing number of databases.
But the interesting thing is not simply that the state has failed – more, it’s why the state has failed.
I believe part of the reason is because the state – monolithic, inhuman, clumsy, distant – more often than not only treats the symptoms of our social problems, not their causes.
So for instance, its main response to rising severe poverty is more and more redistribution, with means-tested benefits and tax credits, and its main response to crime is passing another law or criminal justice act.
Let me make clear: we will keep tax credits.
But this approach, in which big government deals only with symptoms of our social problems, is nearing the limits of its effectiveness – to put it mildly.
It is time to ask some searching questions.
How many more tax credits do we keep funding before we finally ask ourselves: just what is keeping people in poverty?
How many more laws do we pass before finally we ask ourselves: just why is it that people are turning to crime?
And there’s another, connected, reason why the state is making things worse, not better.
As it has continued to expand, becoming bigger, more dictatorial, more intrusive, it has taken away from people the belief and desire to do things for themselves, for their families and for their neighbours.
So there is less expectation to work, to use your discretion and judgement, to engage with your local community, to keep your neighbourhood clean, to respect other people and their property.
Today, the state is ever present: either doing things for you, or telling you how to do them, or making sure you’re doing it their way.
We see this starkly when it comes to the fight against crime.
Police performance indicators were introduced as a means of measuring the effectiveness of different police forces.
They take into account things like the number of crimes each force detects and clears up, and bonuses can be awarded accordingly.
It sounds like a good idea.
But in reality, it completely undermines the discretion of each and every officer, encouraging them to pursue those cases that will get easy convictions, to classify as crimes things that they previously would have dealt with informally, and, most substantively, to ignore those offences where it will be difficult to get a conviction – like a lot of anti-social behaviour cases.
It is the law of unintended consequences, one we see time and again from Labour’s approach to our public services - in schools, in hospitals, in social services.
Indeed, right across our national life people’s instinct to do the right and responsible thing is neutered or even discouraged by big government.
Some parents are better off if they live apart rather than live together.
Head teachers who want to restore discipline in the classroom are overruled.
Local residents who want to get involved with their local community, giving young children something to do in their holidays, have to go through the rigmarole of vetting and inspection.
This is the moral failure of Labour’s big government approach.
When our police officers, those who are there to protect us, are encouraged to steer clear of the most difficult cases, when parents can be rewarded for splitting up, when professionals are told to follow rules rather than do what they think is best, when the kind-hearted are discouraged from doing good in their community, is it any wonder our society is broken?
We need to move from big government to the Big Society – a society with personal and collective responsibility right at its heart.
To set off on this new course, we will be guided by the philosophy of progressive conservatism.
Progressive – because if the Big Society exists for any reason, it must be to help the most disadvantaged in our country and seek to create a more united and equal place for us all.
But Conservative too – because we need to draw upon historic values of conservatism, discipline, responsibility, a deep faith in mankind and womankind, a respect for traditional institutions, such as family, church, community and country, and an appreciation of the limitations of the state.
Progressive conservatism is a modern philosophy that is right for an age in which debate is being widened and power is being diffused.
That is why it is such a powerful idea, one that should be unleashed to tackle our biggest problems.
It is an idea whose time has come.
And it reflects age-old truths.
In fact, it was perhaps the most famous liberal politician in British history, William Gladstone, who best summed up what I believe a government should do.
‘It is the duty of government to make it difficult for people to do wrong, easy to do right,’ he said.
Gladstone was, of course, a classic liberal.
But he also understood the power of traditional values.
And in these 19 words, he perfectly defined the ideal for government.
One that frees up people to do good, but is not scared to confront them when they are bad.
So how are we going to do it?
The defining characteristic of the modern Conservative approach is found in the phrase power to the people.
This is not just a slogan.
It is a radical blueprint for redrawing society based on a belief that the best ideas come from the ground up, not the top down.
On a faith that people can come together to make life better.
And on the simple idea that we must give innovators and the idealists the opportunity to deal with our most pressing problems.
So we will improve state schools by inviting in anyone with the ideals and inspiration to create a new school so that every child has the chance of a good education.
We will invite charities, church groups, businesses and social entrepreneurs into our public services to crack the dependency culture and get people off drugs and welfare and into work.
And when it comes to fighting crime, who do you think is best placed to make our streets safe?
Politicians issuing diktats in Westminster, civil servants pushing pens in Whitehall, or communities who know where the cars are broken into, the street lighting doesn’t work, the drunken fights break out and the local gangs gather?
That’s why we will give local people much greater control over local policing, with elected police commissioners and beat meetings to discuss local priorities and to raise local issues.
And we won’t stop there – we will go further and faster in building the Big Society.
Let’s give new powers to people to keep local pubs open, stop post offices from closing, to run their local parks, to help decide on planning decisions that affect their lives, to spend the profits from developments on local playgrounds and youth facilities.
Let’s give people the chance to take control of their lives and of their communities – and help make life better.
In almost every area, we will bypass the politicians and bureaucrats in Whitehall and hand control directly over to individuals, to communities and to local civic institutions.
With government giving them the support and power they need, they will help mend our broken society and build the Big Society in its place.
This return of power to the people will be complemented by the second method through which Conservative means will deliver progressive ends - an emphasis on responsibility.
Personal responsibility. Social responsibility.
The right balance between liberalism and conservatism.
Trusting the individual, but demanding a commitment to society in return.
This will be the core of every policy: if it encourages irresponsibility we shouldn’t do it and if it encourages responsibility we should do it.
So we will say to head teachers - you do what you think is right to impose discipline and order in your school.
But parents will be free to judge you on your results.
We will say to those on welfare – if you can work we will do everything possible to help you get a job.
But refuse to work and we will cut your dole.
We will say to criminals - if you commit a crime you won’t get early release because if you commit a crime you should be properly punished.
But we will do everything we can to help you stop reoffending.
And we will say to the young - spend two months on National Citizen Service, working and living with people from different parts of society, and you will emerge a better and stronger person.
Above all, we will be the most family-friendly Government you’ve ever seen in this country, because I believe that the family is the crucible of responsibility.
Strong families lead to strong societies. It’s as simple as that.
So whether it is flexible work, flexible paternity and maternity leave, Sure Start or recognising marriage in the tax system, we are on the side of the family.
But in return, our plans also include giving parents greater legal responsibility for the actions of their children if they commit anti-social behaviour.
We are going to do all that we can to support every family - and every kind of family.
After all, show me the boy smashing up a bus stop, and I’ll show you a boy who feels worthless.
And show me an inmate doing time for a violent crime, and I’ll show you the man who never knew the love of his father.
So many of our biggest problems start and end with the family - and there can be little progress until we recognise this.
COMMON SENSE AND RIGOUR
But as well as people power and encouraging responsibility, we need something else.
We need to bring some Conservative common sense and rigour to our social problems.
Such simple words to use, but all too absent from our politics in recent years.
Common sense and rigour are part of our core beliefs as Conservatives.
And we’re going to bring them to government.
So we will cut back the bureaucracy imposed on the police, and free our officers to provide the sort of high visibility, zero-tolerance, beat-based policing that communities really want.
We will untangle the giant knot of health and safety rules and regulations which prevent so many people from engaging with their local community or volunteering to help children.
And we will insist on rigour at the heart of the curriculum in our schools.
No longer will so many children leave primary school unable to read and write, or leave secondary school with no sense of our island story. And no longer will we put up with an exam system that tests credibility rather than pupils.
Indeed, what sort of country have we become in which authors are not allowed to go into our schools and inspire children with a love of books without first going through criminal vetting?
And let me tell you something else:
I never again want to hear of a hospital that is so obsessed with meeting government targets that it allows patients to go unwashed and unfed.
And this approach, based upon common sense and rigour, must start at the top - with the way politicians spend taxpayers’ money.
This year Labour are spending more on debt interest than on our schools. That makes no sense whatsoever.
So we need to act fast to cut our debts - to protect our frontline services.
There is nothing progressive about piling taxes like the jobs tax on working people and firms trying to keep their heads above water.
There is nothing progressive about putting people out of work.
For every pound wasted on a public sector fat cat, a bloated quango, a computer programme that never works, that is a pound less to spend on our schools, our hospitals, our police forces and our social services.
So we won’t wait to slice out the waste.
If we win the election on May 6, we will start rooting it out on May 7.
So this, in a nutshell, is how we will set out to rebuild the broken society.
Harnessing the strength of conservative values to the power of progressive ideals.
The progressive aims of a fair society, opportunity for all, a safer place to live, delivered through the conservative means of giving power back to the people, social responsibility and common sense and rigour.
With a government focused on making life difficult for wrong-doers, and easy for those that want to do right by themselves, their family and their neighbourhood.
Gladstone’s ideal for government. Put into practice by modern, progressive Conservatives.
Only in this way will we liberate people to strengthen their families, rebuild their communities and create a better country.
Only in this way will we start to reclaim our streets from the menace of crime and to ensure all of our schools offer children the same chances in life.
To ensure that our public services serve the public and that our politicians are servants of the people, not their masters.
Inspired by the Big Society, not crushed by the effects of big government.
Based on hope, optimism and faith in each other.
Not rules, regulations and fear of each other.
This is what Barack Obama called the audacity of hope.
Now it is our turn to dare to believe that we can change our world.
Together. All of us.
So let’s do it.