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For this purpose, it is vital to connect with the intellectual world from which Barack Obama emerged. So here are the President's friends and advisers, Cass Sunstein of Harvard and Richard Thaler of Chicago, who claim that a mere "nudge" from government "can effect a whole culture change". Here is the Harvard Professor of Democracy and Citizenship, Archon Fung, enthusing about "centralised support" for community activists, based on his doctrine of "accountable autonomy". Here, too, are Eric von Hippel, the Professor of Technological Innovation at MIT, offering new reasons why small is beautiful in business, and Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for Economics, explaining why "non-state collective action is more effective than centralised state solutions in solving community problems". 

The American liberals cited in the speech are joined by a few British academics (but, interestingly, no Continentals) who reinforce the impression that Cameron has drawn exclusively on the centre-Left for inspiration in this speech. For example, he accepts the controversial thesis of The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Katie Pickett, that what matters for quality of life is not wealth but equality: the more unequal a society is, the unhappier its people will be. True, he rejects their view that policy should be directed at reducing the gap between the richest and the poorest, which requires punitive taxation on the wealthy. Cameron prefers to close "the gap between the bottom and the middle, not because it is the easy thing to do, but because focusing on those who do not have the chance of a good life is the most important thing to do." He was mocked by Polly Toynbee for apparently letting his wealthy friends off the hook, but surely more significant is the fact of a Tory leader who does not even question the principle that it is the state's job to redistribute wealth in the name of social justice.

By comparison, Cameron gives the conservative intellectual tradition short shrift. There is a perfunctory nod to Edmund Burke and Michael Oakeshott. Indeed, I suspect that the last time he opened one of their works was as an undergraduate at Oxford, at one of his tutorials with Professor Vernon Bogdanor. None of the various American centre-Right currents of thought gets a look-in: no libertarians or supply-side conservatives, and especially no neoconservatives. The exception who proves the rule is Francis Fukuyama, the End of History Man, who was once a leading neoconservative but later distanced himself from the Bush administration and supported Obama. So Fukuyama is quoted here approvingly as he polemicises against laissez-faire: "There is a certain assumption that civil society, once having been damaged by the excessive ambition of government, will simply spring back to life like brine shrimp that have been freeze-dried, and now you add water to them and they become shrimp again. It is not something that you can take for granted."

Even more striking is Cameron's endorsement of Phillip Blond, the self-styled "Red Tory", who in the past year has risen from Cumbrian obscurity to become le dernier cri in the salons of Notting Hill. A former lecturer in theology may seem an implausible candidate to be the ideologue of Cameronism, and as he has yet to write a book (one is promised before the election), the rationale for his influence is somewhat sketchy. He does, however, have the ear of the liberal media. Vigorously promoted by the Guardian and Independent, Blond was adopted by the Blairite think-tank Demos to run their "Progressive Conservatism" project, another leftist attempt to retain influence (and public funding) by clinging to the coat-tails of a coming prime minister. It was launched early this year with a cover story in Prospect, a monthly that appeals particularly to well-established would-be radicals, and a speech by the Tory leader. But the orthodox radicals of Demos and the "radical orthodox" theologian soon fell out and parted for reasons that remain mysterious. 

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James
March 29th, 2010
2:03 PM
The article refers to Cameron having to make his mind up over the "radical egalitarians" who have succeeded in closing down the Catholic adoption agencies. He does not. He has already made his mind up. While Blair was dithering over whether to allow Catholic Adoption agencies an exemption, Cameron announced he would be voting against any exemptins as the principle of gays being allowed to adopt was right and no-one should be exempt.

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