Coalition

Welcome to our new Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his deputy, Nick Clegg.

The above image was taken in M&S a couple of weeks ago.  Then this morning, I read the Alain de Botton thinks we need a Prime Minister built on precisely these values:

But what we crave most is normality.  However much we may want our intellectuals or artists to be passionate, strange, a little deformed and prone to outbursts of joy or fury, recent experience has left us in no doubt as to the dangers of eccentricity.  We need a Prime Minister as imagined by the menswear range of Marks & Spencer.

Think local, act local?

Philip Blond’s interesting cover essay for this month’s Prospect, ‘Rise of the Red Tories’, advocates a new form of Conservatism for David Cameron, centred around the Tories’ new thinking on social issues (I’m going to be as radical a social reformer as Margaret Thatcher was an economic reformer says Cameron). Blond says the consensus that has emerged in British Politics – socially liberal-left, economically liberal-right – has failed on both fronts. The vice-versa, which would be a social conservatism alongside a leftist economy, seems a rather chilling prospect to my mind, but Blond thinks that an alternative could be to push through a full-blooded new localism which works to empower communities:

[Cameron] could start with four task: re-localising our banking system, developing local capital, helping normal people gain new assets and breaking up big business monopolies.

I suppose the emphasis on market forces (albeit at the local level) makes this a nominally right-wing policy, but with an emphasis on local, community ownership and assets, its not immediately clear to me why these ideas couldn’t be labelled left wing instead (indeed, I assume that confusion is why the article is illustrated with a graphic of Thatcher-as-Che). Yes, Conventional Wisdom would have it that a Labour Party under the Authoritarian Gordon Brown would not adopt such policies. But on the other hand, these ideas seem to be precisely the sort of wings that Hazel Blears’ Community Empowerment agenda requires, to get it off the pages of think-tank reports, and into actual communities.

Meanwhile, The Economist reports on ‘For-profit activism’, that is, harnessing the power of social networking to build-up buying power, to bend markets in favour of socially acceptable or environmentally friendly businesses.

Residents of San Francisco have been signing up enthusiastically for a new green-energy campaign called 1BOG. Short for “one block off the grid”, it aims to convince homeowners to switch to solar energy one block at a time, by organising them into buying clubs. Members get a discount on solar panels, and typically try to get their neighbours to sign up too. The city has also seen several recent examples of Carrotmobs—crowds of activists who buy everything in the winning shop in a contest between retailers to be the greenest.

As the article notes, we’ve seen these sorts of enterprises before, from the Body Shop, to Bono’s RED iPods, to Fair Trade Labelling, to the expensive soaps and hemp shirts you find in charity catalogues. Only this time, its local.

However, I would note a fundamental difference. On the national level, the kind of eco-friendly, ethical capitalism has found a niche within the retail economy. It has become successful, and crucially, normalised. On the other hand, the Carrotmobs and 1BOG seem to be one-off gimmicks. Indeed, the latter only works because a large company subsidises it as part of a marketing campaign. Its almost as if those people who are actually spending the money to make this work are participating in a leisure activity, rather than an everyday participation in a market that could sustain the local economy. We won’t be able to herald the coming of a ‘new localism’ until this sort of thing can arise and sustain itself without being shepherded by a well-meaning entrepreneur, or subsidised as part of a pilot scheme. Its not clear from these examples that this is possible.

Cameron's Speech

I thought it was better delivered than the Prime Minister’s, although that was to be expected.  The rhetoric flowed more easily too, and several of the passages could resonate with undecideds, despite being deceptions:

For Labour there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in.

This looks like nonsense to me:  Labour politicians know that neighbourhoods and communities and families are important – they are where much of the state intervention is directly targeted, and the place where state agencies deliver the rest.  Regardless, the Big State meme will take hold, especially with ‘Brown-the-Control-Freak’ at the helm.

The passage where he attributes “there’s no such thing as society” to the current Government was a brave gamble, but one that I suspect will fail.  In reminding the voters of one of Thatcher’s most offensive quips, he also plants the idea that the current societal problems are the result of her destructive policies.  It is tightrope rhetoric.

However, it was here that he lost me:

This attitude, this whole health and safety, human rights act culture, has infected every part of our life. If you’re a police officer you now cannot pursue an armed criminal without first filling out a risk assessment form. Teachers can’t put a plaster on a child’s grazed knee without calling a first aid officer.

Health and Safety Culture is surely inspired by Litigation Culture.  When a child comes home with a plaster on its knee, angry parents are going to ask, not unreasonably, for a full account.  Likewise, who would not want a police-officer to consult with his superiors, before accosting someone who may be armed?  I’ve listened to several exchanges on police frequencies, where officers were considering approaching such suspects.  It takes time, but its safe and sensible.

Such legislation, however inconvenient, is inspired by an actual concern for the Health and Safety of our children, and our police officers, &ct.  I seriously doubt the Conservatives would change these laws substantially.   Its a populist platitude.

Oh yeah, and attacking the Human Rights Act is a deal breaker for this blogger.