Friday, October 09, 2009

Cameron, the state and society

Bit busy, so no in-depth commentary on David Cameron’s speech. But I recommend these two posts by Giles Wilkes.

I’ll also briefly add that the fallacy at the heart of Cameron’s politics – and, if the polls are right, the tragedy that will be at the heart of his government – is his conviction that ‘the state’ and ‘society’ are not just wholly distinct entities but rivals engaged in a zero-sum game. They are, in a democracy, deeply interdependent; sometimes different parts of either get in one another’s way; sometimes they help one another.

He says: “The more that we as a society do, the less we will need government to do.” Which has a truistic ring to it. But what his approach in power would be is: “The less that government does, the more society will do.” In other words, if you reduce the supply of social policy provision coming from the state, the demand for it will rise and other providers (businesses, charities, community groups, churches) will appear. And, because they’re not the state, they won’t have any of the failings that the state does. And they certainly won’t have any distinctive failings of their own.

Good luck with that.

And there are two wholly different arguments about “big government” that the Tories are very happy to muddle together. Cameron (and others in all parties) often sound appealing when they talk about decentralising government, so that local organisations and individuals can wield more power. But arguments in favour of that are being used to also justify a big shrinkage in the size of government overall. The former is about redistributing power; the latter is about creating a vacuum and hoping it will be nicely filled.

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