David Cameron's social party
The Conservative Party got much stick over the last week about their approach to families. While he was at Demos to deliver a speech on character and responsibility, David Cameron was presented with a moral dilemma by queen-of-the-sensible-left Polly Toynbee – ‘what’ she asked ‘happens to your tax break for married couples when a man leaves his wife and children in order to remarry?’ Cameron was less than forthcoming. He said that the policy was not yet a policy at all, it was a commitment (excuse the pun) and they hadn’t worked the detail out yet.
Today we heard about the Tories' new methodology for measuring child poverty. Rather than simply assessing how much cash Mums and Dads have got, a Conservative Government would take into account other important factors – local support networks and social mobility for example. The announcement was greeted with ‘I told you so’ glee by many on the left. They think that backing away from an income focused measurement signals a same-old-Tories retreat from really engaging with poverty at all.
So, with its ill-defined marriage tax breaks and social measures of poverty, are the Tories really giving up on progressivism so soon after clutching it in an awkward embrace? Has the work undertaken by the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos been simply a smokescreen for protean Thatcherites to hide behind? I realise I have a vested interest here but the answer to these questions is surely a firm no.
The Conservatives are, in fact, signaling their belief in progressive politics in the most radical way possible. Their renewed interest in marriage and civil partnerships demonstrates a genuine concern for the fabric of British families. The decision to measure poverty by social networks, as well as money, shows a preoccupation with renewing communities and helping people to feel more in control over their lives.
My mother, politicised under Thatcher and still angry about how the Conservatives governed in the eighties, frequently sums up her distain for the Tories by invoking Maggie’s famous line – she ‘didn’t care about society’. I may not think that tax breaks are the best way to promote stable families and I may believe that income, as well as other factors, is still important when it comes to measuring poverty but it is clear to me that the Conservatives, in thinking about these issues and actively seeking solutions, really do care about society again. Thank goodness!