Tuesday, April 24, 2007

There is a difference between Cameron and Blair

It is very easy, in fact it's flippantly easy to dismiss David Cameron's speech yesterday about personal responsibility and civil society as either "indistinguishable from what Mr Blair was saying at the same stage in his career" as Dominic Lawson did in this morning's Independent, or as "soft-soap rhetoric" and a lack of policy as the Lib Dem MP, Nick Clegg did. However, the latter point - especially about policy - is fundamentally linked to the crux of the philosophical position that Cameron was putting forward which is (and this brings in the former) clearly distinguishable from what Blair was saying 12 or so years ago.

Beginning with Clegg, if we look at Cameron's speech, it is clear that by expressing a need for individuals to start being more personally responsible and changing the perception that "it's the Government's job init?" to every problem, policy becomes something not that politicians prescribe, but something that individuals make themselves in their own communities. The lack of policy is, paradoxically, actually a policy because it states that a Conservative Government would allow the local people to decide on how best to deal with the issues that impact them.

Clearly this is a very distinct position from the Blairite one even at face value in just a short paragraph. However, and moving on to Dominic Lawson's point, there is a more technical difference between what Cameron is saying now and what Blair said all those years ago. For Blair, as many will recall (and I do because he was the subject matter of my dissertation sadly), the key was a coupling of two concepts; rights and responsibilities. That is to say that the state gives you rights and in return you have an obligation of responsibility to it. This places the state as an external entity separate of the individual.

Cameron however is not saying that at all. His call for personal responsibility (and social responsibility) is fundamentally different because it does not make it a conditional response to the state's power. He is, essentially, arguing for a state that exists because of its individuals, rather than despite of. Thus personal and social responsibility should be framed in cultural terms rather than through the application of legal positivist principles to social policy (or what some might call social engineering).

The image above shows this structural difference between Cameron and Blair. Arguably the former believes that individuals make the state, and the response to social problems must lie with individuals (whom wihtout which the state is nothing and cease to be anyway). Meanwhile the structure of the latter places the state on a pedestal. The state in Blair's world exists external of the individuals that make it up.

Cameron's philosophical structure therefore results in the position, quite rightly, that the state overriding policy is that it should not, does not and cannot have a policy for everything. The responsibility of individuals who make up the civil society which creates the governmental structure of the state are the key to social problems, not the state itself. It's classic bottom-up politics, versus the top-down approach of the Left.
N.B. The above image is a representation of conceptual structure. The size of the circles are arbitrary.


Chris Paul said...

It's empty rhetoric and what Cameron the PR Sinner, sorry Spinner, himself calls "Positioning". As the Tory members (from Brihouse, Calder Valley, Lab held marginal, retiring MP) on the Politics Show said:
"We don't want positioning, we want ideology"
The whole case of all those interviewed and therefore in the end of the piece was that Cameron cannot win back such places with wet flannel.

Now these Tories on the ground may be wrong (as Labour people were about Blair and his triangulations, though they're running out of steam) but I tend to think they're not wrong.

The two positions are virtually indistinguishable. The Tory state would obviously help to underline the rights and responsibilities in very similar if not identical ways to The Socialist (ha, chance would be a fine thing) State.

In my opinion.

dizzy said...

A worthy intellectual challenge to what I said there Chris. Well done.

dizzy said...

Incidnetally, there is an philosoophical ideology. It's outlined above.. I even did a picture.

The Daily Pundit said...

The picture clinched it for me. They paint a thousand words you know.

Anonymous said...

Good post, and the picture made it for me. Although are you saying that under a tory govt the sate would be larger, as your pic suggests?

I hope not!

dizzy said...

no the picture is not to scale

monoi said...

So you mean that Cameron might be a conservative in disguise after all ?!?!

Whatever next !

Anonymous said...

Absolutely right. I hate the arrogance of socialist politicians who think that they can somehow make the world a wonderful place just by passing a few hundred laws every year.

As Cameron says, this level of activity by the Government is actually more likely to make matters worse, as people think they don't have to care for other people, because the State has everything in hand.

We get used to being told what to do and how to do it, instead of taking responsibility for our own lives and those of our friends, family and neighbours. Again, as Cameron says, we get treated like children ... and so we act like children.

What we need, as a start, is more powers to local councils. The national government should only be concerned with national issues, with everything else, including health and education, dealt with at the council level.

Anonymous said...

If what you are suggesting is, in actuality, what Cameron is saying, it's obviously to be welcomed with open arms.

However, if it is was he was suggesting, why didn't he make it abundantly clear himself - so that you didn't have to write your analysis?

He looks to be leaving so much 'wriggle room' in all that he says, that I'm less convinced about him now than I originally was.

The odd heartfelt, genuinely held and robustly expressed belief from any contemporary politician wouldn't go amiss.

dizzy said...

Not sure a politician giving a speech that sounded like political academia would be as well received.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Dizzy not convinced. cameron starts well by stating the obvious that we can not rely on the state to do everything and the patronisingly reminds us all of our responsibilities. Camerons big idea on crime and anti-social behaviour is buck your ideas up.

His idea if he has one will fail because individualism has triumphed over the collectivism and paternalism of the left and right. It is rather ironic that the New right gave us economic freedom and are now whining about the authoritarian state that they introduced at the same time.

At least frank Field has some decent ideas, pity that Cameron is bereft of them.

What happened to there is no such thing as society?

Anonymous said...

WTF are you on about, zinzin?

Anonymous said...

I hate the arrogance of socialist politicians who think that they can somehow make the world a wonderful place just by passing a few hundred laws every year.

Unlike right-wing politicans not a fan of Irony i take it.