Cameron's New Year social justice mission

Written by George Pascoe-Watson on 11 December 2015 in Opinion
Opinion
The PM has key Number 10 advisers such as Camilla Cavendish and Christian Guy working away behind-the-scenes on his social justice crusade

The great battles of World War Two are the ones which are remembered long into history. But Benedict Cumberbatch's Imitation Game reminds us that equally significant events are often taking place quietly, unnoticed, which will come to have had an even more dramatic effect.

And so it is with David Cameron's social justice crusade. The PM is on a mission and the New Year will see more of it being delivered.

Mr Cameron is rightly gripped by the war on terror, an EU referendum which is far from "in the bag", significant cuts to State spending and, right now, a flooding crisis.

Of course it is the war on terror which is front and centre of the PM's mind, as it is on all of our list of concerns as we brace for a mainland Britain outrage at the hands of IS. Sending British RAF jets into war in Syria was a big step and finding our way out of this security crisis is by no means an easy solution.

These are the big ticket items on the radar right now. And although they dominate the Premier's time, and of course matter in the grand scheme of governing, we must not overlook his social justice agenda.

Mr Cameron made clear his ambitions in his party conference speech in Manchester only two months ago.

He told the Tory faithful: "There’s another big social problem we need to fix. In politicians’ speak: a 'lack of social mobility'. In normal language: people unable to rise from the bottom to the top, or even from the middle to the top, because of their background.

"Listen to this: Britain has the lowest social mobility in the developed world. Here, the salary you earn is more linked to what your father got paid than in any other major country. I’m sorry, for us Conservatives, the party of aspiration, we cannot accept that."

Many of his Conservative colleagues felt uneasy at this stance. They are uncomfortable with anything that looks and sounds like social engineering. The market and human nature are best to sort these issues out.

But Mr Cameron - who has five years in which to build his personal legacy as all Premiers have a right to do - is on a march. Do not forget the ambitions of the man who seized control of his party in 2005 with a programme to end global warming and fix the National Health Service.

His ambitions were thwarted by firstly the financial crash, which meant a Tory-led Coalition had to focus on fixing the economy. And secondly, by Coalition government. His LibDem partners were unwilling to indulge his will in a number of key areas.

But now Mr Cameron has a one shot chance at delivering at least some of his earlier promises. And he's now got the bit between his teeth.

He won a general election when everyone told him he couldn't. What else does he need to top up that famous Etonian self-belief?

So his focus is quietly on getting things done to create a socially mobile Britain. Child poverty, affordable housing, third rate social services, low pay, a crumbling Dickensian prisons estate which has become a college for radicalisation.

These are all major headaches which affect millions of people in their day-to-day lives, regardless of what's happening on the world stage.

The PM's decision to bring in "name blindness" so people from ethnic backgrounds find it easier to land a job underlines this commitment to fairness.

For him, the gay marriage policy fight has left a flame burning deep inside which is forcing him on to make change to life in Britain.

The decision to legalise gay marriage split his party down the middle between modernisers and traditionalists. I've seen it virtually come to blows in Commons bars.

Mr Cameron and George Osborne have vowed to build one million more homes by 2020. This is very much part of the pledge the PM has made about "security at every stage of life" about which The Insider has written before.

What could give us more security than owning our own homes? Steps have already been taken to modernise Britain's rather shoddy adoption culture and processes.

Prepare for more in the New Year, which a pretty radical shakeup of social services being lined up. Work around low pay and equality between men and women on salaries is also forthcoming.

Mr Cameron has never been clearer. As a dad of two daughters, he would bitterly resent their having to accept pay inequality in this day and age.

So he has got his policy unit brains working away on solutions. Camilla Cavendish is holding regular meetings with Cabinet ministers and posing the question: "Why can't we do this?"

Christian Guy, a recent hire to the policy team in number 10, has a specific brief to put policy through the prism of social justice.

And now Michael Gove, the architect and driver of an education revolution in England, turns his focus to Britain's creaking prisons.

Victorian jails will be sold off and torn down to make way for much-needed housing in cities. New ones will go up out of town and built in a way to help prisoners rehabilitate. Prison governers will be given the chance to act as private purchasers of services, using digital technology to better educate prisoners and keep them in touch with their families.

All the while, pretty clever new ways are being found to stop inmates being radicalised during sentences for much smaller crimes than terrorism.

There's a childhood obesity strategy in the mix which is interventionist in a way rarely seen by a Conservative administration. And even the Treasury is now hypothecating taxes - a breach of HMT doctrine which has former mandarins spluttering.

These may not seem like big events. Even taken together, many will see them as tinkering. But the Premier believes they will impact peoples' lives in ways that politicians in Westminster would never really understand.

As in the Imitation Game, the work at Bletchley was to deliver as much as any of the strategic battle losses and victories of World War Two. But no one knew about them.

Change is not terribly Conservative, we like to think. But change is afoot. David Cameron is on a mission.

 

 

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