How on earth did Cameron expect a Big Society to arise from Broken Britain?

April 22, 2010

There has been much media discussion about the strange meandering course the Tory campaign has taken over the last week, when its single big theme – ‘Change’ appears to be in danger of being returned to its rightful Lib Dem home. This is presented as a new thing; a surprising upset for the Tory juggernaut. It’s not.

There is a growing clear inconsistency within Tory policy, a split that is only being magnified under the required scrutiny of the election. It is an inconsistency between their attacks and their ostensible policies. For the past couple of years, the key theme of Cameron’s campaign has been ‘Broken Britain’; claiming that thanks to Labour we now live in a country consisting of gangs of teenage immigrant hoodies grouped on street corners grinding grandmothers’ bones to make their pita bread. Cameron intends to salve this asbo-bleeding gaping wound upon our nation with the sticking plaster of a marriage tax break and then leave it up to us. It’s bizarre; one would assume that someone in the Tory camp would’ve realised that saying, ‘Labour has got us into this mess, I want to get into government and leave you to sort it all out’ would not be a vote-winner. If society is composed of the sort of incorrigible individuals Cameron claims it is, how is it expected to sort itself out?

There is a far deeper incoherency in the Tory position, and that’s the strange logical disjunction they appear to make between Government and the State. It is revealed by their attacks on a hung parliament: ‘We need a strong government to calm the markets, but we need a weaker state to repair society’. Government directs the state; a weak government prevents the state from doing too much. On Tuesday the Tories say Government needs to be strong (hence their opposition to electoral reform), but on Wednesday they say the state needs to be weak. I am not convinced that the electorate make this disjunction, and rightly so. My analysis here has been slightly facile, but it needs to be: the Tory position cannot be presented as coherent without some severely convoluted logic. Rather, it appears to be a string of ideas held together with the intellectual equivalent of gaffer tape; the sort of election campaign one might find in Boy’s Own. In this sense, its closest parallel in the modern world is certainly not Obama’s campaign, but rather the attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea led by a gang of ex-public school byos.

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