Friday, October 09, 2009

David Cameron's war on the state.

I'll be honest, I didn't watch the speech, I had read enough about it in advance to know that I would hate it, although I have since read the whole thing.

But there was an element of this speech which I really didn't see coming. Despite the fact that Reaganomics has been shown during the recent financial crisis to be dead in the water - was deregulation really the answer? - it was to the language of Reagan which Cameron leant towards as he spelt out how he sees the function of government.

In a sombre, occasionally emotional hour-long speech, deliberately shorn of new policy specifics, he set out to prepare the nation for the sacrifice necessary to reduce the budget deficit, but also promised a Reaganite revolution that recognised "it has been more government that has got us into this mess".

It was no surprise that this speech was "deliberately shorn of new policy specifics", as Cameron has spent the past four years avoiding telling us what he intends to do, but the lurch towards Reaganism did take me by surprise.

I would have thought that, if anything had been learned from the credit crunch, it would have been that the mantra of Reagan and Thatcher was wrong. Reagan bemoaned the intervention of "big government" and wanted government to get out of the way so that the market and it's forces could operate free from government constraint.

We saw recently - during the almost complete financial collapse of our financial system - what happens when government gets out of the way and allows the market to work in an almost completely deregulated manner. The result was chaos. Indeed, our grandchildren will likely be paying the bill which such blind faith in the market produced.

And yet, the lesson Cameron seems to have learned is that big government is the problem and needs to get out of the way.


Why is our economy broken? Not just because Labour wrongly thought they'd abolished boom and bust. But because government got too big, spent too much and doubled the national debt.

Is he being deliberately dishonest there or does he really not know what happened?

The national debt was doubled bailing out the banks because deregulation had allowed them to gamble irresponsibly with other people's money to such an extent that it looked as if the entire banking system was about to collapse. I find it hard to believe that Cameron doesn't know that.

Just as I find it hard to believe that Cameron doesn't see the basic contradiction in arguing for a more progressive Britain, whilst also arguing for smaller government.

He, of course, promised to deal with the debt. But his obsession with reducing the debt poses obvious threats for the poorest members of society, who he is also promising to help. It was a speech which abounded with such contradictions.

Although there were some passages where I even found myself nodding in agreement:

To be British is to be sceptical of authority and the powers-that-be.

That's why ID cards, 42 days and Labour's surveillance state are so utterly unacceptable and why we will sweep the whole rotten edifice away.

But, overall, it was a speech which struck one by it's utter lack of specifics, a point which Cameron attempted to elevate into a virtue:

But I know that whatever plans you make in Opposition, it's the unpredictable events that come to dominate a government.

And it's your character, your temperament and your judgment, not your policies and your manifesto – that really make the difference.

You can never prove you're ready for everything that will come your way as prime minister. But you can point to the judgments you've made.

So, he is asking that people look towards his "temperament and judgement" and accept those as a substitute for actual policy.

The problem with that is that the judgements he has made so far have been utterly wrong. His party opposed the bailing out of Northern Rock. They thought the recession should have been allowed to bite as deep and as hard as it wanted without the government intervening in any way.

He is actually inciting the politics of Reagan at the precise time when they have been shown as a failure.

And more than anything it was a speech filled with hyperbole, but lacking any specific plan as to how he intended to make any of this happen.

For example, who could argue with this good intention?

I see a country where the poorest children go to the best schools not the worst, where birth is never a barrier.

Laudable intentions; but, as always with Dave, he is extremely light on the details of how he intends to build a Britain where "birth is never a barrier" or how he plans to make sure Britain's "poorest children go to the best schools, not the worst".

Is there a single sentient person who thinks he means it when he says that? If he seriously thought that achievable, if he had worked out a way to deliver on this promise, wouldn't he be shouting it from the rooftops?

And there were other contradictions:
He praised Sure Start, which is the epitome of the well-funded, universal service he sought to dismiss. He nodded towards Labour's good intentions, but did not, as he might have done, point out that taking a sledgehammer to the universal welfare state will inevitably diminish some universal services. He spoke strongly about poverty, but wants to spend less money on things used by the poor.
In this way his speech was utterly confusing. He was promising that Britain's poorest children would go to Britain's best schools whilst, simultaneously, promising to get big government out of the way.

Without the intervention of government most if us would imagine that his goal becomes impossible to achieve. Unless Cameron really is proposing that the market, if left unhindered, will achieve all of this on it's own?

More Reaganism anyone?

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