Monday, June 18, 2007

Brown vs Cameron: redistributing power

David Cameron today makes what the Telegraph bills as “the most important speech of his leadership” (and if it’s even more important than his speech on ‘why grammar schools are bad, except the ones that actually exist, and we won’t create any more, unless we do’, then you can expect a treat).

So I’m going to contrast Cameron’s speech with a speech by Gordon Brown just over eight months ago. I think you’ll agree that Cameron embodies the Shiny New Politics and Brown the Clunking Old Politics.

Valuing people’s responsibility
Cameron, 18/6/07:
Social responsibility means that every time we see a problem, we don’t just ask what government can do. We ask what people can do, what society can do.

Brown, 12/10/06:
challenges can best be met only by bringing out the best in people, and in their individual potential, and we do so by rediscovering… ideas of liberty, responsibility and fairness
…the state is not master, but serves the people; and remember, also, that we will meet the challenges ahead best when individual, civic society and the institutions of government work in partnership.

21st century boys
Cameron, 18/6/07:
It’s the twenty-first century. It’s the age of “people know best.” … We’re living in an age where people want to control their government, not have their government control them.

Brown, 12/10/06:
The fact is, you cannot master the challenges ahead the old way with… a political class believing they were born to govern and a passive electorate.
…the 21st century insight is that each challenge needs not just investment by the community but also the active involvement of citizens, and so we need not just new policies but a new politics, starting from an active national engagement of the British people: the responsible citizen, empowered communities and an enabling accountable state.

Power to the people
Cameron, 18/6/07:
[People] want and need a government that’s on their side, that trusts them, that positively wants to put power and control in their hands.

Brown, 12/10/06:
We are now embarked upon transforming the culture of government from controlling to enabling, from directing to empowering, work in progress - work to be stepped up in the years to come.

What’s Top-Down Gordon ever done for us?
Cameron, 18/6/07:
That’s the big difference between us and Gordon Brown. His answer to crime, his answer to education, his answer to everything - is a top-down government scheme.

Brown, 12/10/06:
In developing policy for children’s centres with my colleagues I and others insisted that voluntary associations, parents and charities not only be involved but help run the new services, in other words that we formed a partnership of parents, civic society, and local and national institutions of government. …parents and the local community are at the centre, in the driving seat.

But Sure Start and children’s centres could not have happened without the investment and the catalytic and coordinating role of local and national government. And so, the way forward in encouraging the flourishing of the individual potential of children is not to assume a divorce between community action and government nor to assume that if you enlarge the civic space you need to diminish the contribution of the public realm, but a partnership where each helps the other: the active parent, the empowered community associations and an enabling government.

There are basically four differences between them. First, Cameron uses shorter words, and fewer. Secondly, Cameron is behind the curve. Thirdly, Cameron ignores the government’s record and talks in general terms, whereas Brown has a stock of examples to draw on.

Fourthly, Cameron thinks that all government involvement is top-down controlling statism, whereas Brown thinks that as power and resources are distributed unevenly within society, the public sector’s involvement is crucial for allowing people a real chance to shape their lives and communities. As Brown said (back in December 2005): “Our voluntary organisations should neither be captured by the state nor used as a cut price alternative to necessary public provision…
 [F]airness… cannot, in the end, be guaranteed by charities, however benevolent, by markets, however dynamic, or by individuals, however well meaning, but guaranteed only by enabling government.”

Cameron’s priority is to give ‘responsibility’ to people. But to do so without giving them power as well – a redistribution that only the state can enable – would just create more and more ways for the strong to outpace the weak (at the taxpayers’ expense). Brown knows better, having a sense of social justice that stretches back decades; Cameron’s compassionate conservatism is a recent piece of expedient positioning.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ho Ho! Brilliant piece of work..