Since he formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the pro-family corner of his compassionate triangle of policies has been blunted. Cameron has publicly signed up to the William Galston view that a strong family, a good education and a job are the three best ways any person can stay out of poverty. Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith are powering ahead on making it easier for a young person to acquire the education and work skills that underpin independence from the state. Unfortunately, the Liberal Democrats object to almost any action to support the traditional family, even though Britain's tax system is more indifferent to the family unit than any major European or developed country, with the exception of Mexico and Turkey.
For compassionate conservatism to be successful, two things need to happen. First, it can't be a peripheral or passing commitment. Second, it needs to be popularised and simplified. There are important exceptions and some can be found within Cameron's inner circle but most leading Tories don't see compassionate conservatism as a governing philosophy. For most, it's something between an annoying distraction or a mildly useful bolt-on.
Although the new generation of MPs is more enthusiastic, not enough understand the electoral potency of a more socially-just brand of conservatism that doesn't just reshape a few policies here and there but actually changes the whole way the party presents itself. Some are willing to experiment with a few inner-city photo opportunities but expect an immediate fillip in the opinion polls. They miss the fact that the electorate is reserving judgment until it sees a genuine commitment to social reform, tested over time. Some protest that the poorest communities will never vote Conservative — overlooking the fact that many prosperous voters will only stay with the Conservative Party if they see a party that isn't just good for them but good for their neighbours too. These were the people who deserted the Tories in the Blair landslide of 1997 — people who, personally, had done well out of the Thatcher-Major years but who didn't like the idea that so many people were being left behind.
Ultimately, compassionate conservatism is closer to mainstream conservatism than the liberal conservatism of David Cameron. Liberal conservatism often appears embarrassed about traditional Tory beliefs in law and order, national self-determination, strong defence and carefully-policed immigration. Compassionate or mainstream conservatives don't want to abandon core beliefs. Their ambition is to give a greater breadth to conservatism. They see no incompatibility between a tough approach to immigration and a commitment to provide aid to the hungriest people of the world. They see no contradiction between investing in our military and ending the sale of arms to oppressive regimes. They believe that persistent and serious offenders should always be jailed but, that, in what Iain Duncan Smith has called the nation of the second chance, prisoner rehabilitation is a worthy cause.
- ONLINE ONLY: Academic Boycotts Teach Us Nothing
- ONLINE ONLY: Send in the Clowns
- ONLINE ONLY: Thatcher, Reagan and the Dictators
- The Resolute Courage of Margaret Thatcher
- America's New Isolationists Are Endangering the West
- An Alternative To Our Reckless Energy Gamble
- The Family is the Key to the Future of Faith
- Persecuted Muslims Who Love Life in England
- They Were the Future of the Tory Party, Once
- The Parable of the Stupid Samaritan
- Pope Frank: In the Footsteps of St Francis
- The Middle Kingdom's Problem with Religion
- We Abandon Christians in the East At Our Peril
- Feminism Or Islamism: Which Side Are You On?
- At Last: Gove Goes For the Culture of Excuses
- Is There a Way Out of the Tories' Modernising Mess?
- Online Only: The Kenyatta Dilemma
- Cameron is the Euro's Best Hope for Survival
- Census That Revealed a Troubling Future
- The Servant of the servants of God Departs in Peace