Saturday 9 January 2010

An ideological blizzard

The great politics of snow debate continues.

But Mr Daniel Hannan fears his short contribution has been misreported here on Next Left, and so we are happy to put the record straight:

"you don't honestly think I want LAWS to make people sweep their drives, do you? I said people should be RESPONSIBLE - meaning that they should take responsibility themselves!"

I would seem to have over-interpreted his statement "While I was sweating over the broom, a thought occurred: if everyone were responsible for his own patch of pavement, the disruption caused by snow would be much diminished".

Hannan therefore remains, unsurprisingly, committed to Cameronism mark one, as set out in the (Hannanite) Manchester conference 'big government is the problem' speech.


The mystery remains as to what are the means by which this social responsibility is to be more effectively engendered.

An advocate of Cameronism, mark two, as set out in the rather different (Guardianista) Hugo Young 'we will use the state to remake society' lecture, might still consider the type of pavement clearing laws to enforce social responsibility which exist in Germany, South Korea and elsewhere, and which are being vigorously debated on Alex Massie's thread at the Coffee House.

Personally, I would be with those who might think that too much of a state intrusion into seeking to give 'rights and responsibilities' a contractual basis.

Such legislation might well be a last resort for Hiltonism too.

Those of you who have read the Steve Hilton strategy bulletins would know that his first instinct would be to tell people that most people already do clear their own snow, and so reap the benefits of enhanced cooperation which would painlessly follow.

But what if that isn't where we are? The sharp-eyed among you might have noticed that this could be a rather conservative approach to 'social responsibility', and of considerably more limited ambition than the social responsibility 'revolution' which David Cameron aspires to. By definition, nudges about what is 'the done thing' can reinforce existing social norms, which a majority already observes, but they are not a method capable the scale of behavioural change which Cameronite true believers think necessary on climate change, for example. (Indeed, the flip-side of this reciprocity principle - "I will if you will" - can risk becoming an individualistic brake or veto on social cooperation - "why should I if they don't").

So mere rhetorical advocacy might not clear much snow, nor did it do anything for marriage rates in the 1980s. So it is striking that some Conservatives do resort to tax breaks or bureaucratic interventions (remember Chris Grayling's wish to promote marrigage by asking about it on government forms) of the type they might usually dismiss as Fabian statist tinkering.


How might a much greater shift towards social responsibility be attempted?

Matthew Parris has a potentially convincing, but perhaps unpalatable, answer: the withdrawal of state guarantees to step in if social responsibility falls short.

His rather brilliant Times column is sympathetic to Cameronism, but asks whether it could follow its own argument to the logical conclusion:

If individual, family and social conscience are to play a big part in public welfare, a measure of visible distress is required to refresh social concern. If we are to be spurred to provide for ourselves, our families and our communities, we have to believe that nobody else will. Those who govern must be unsqueamish enough to tolerate this; and honest enough to explain.

As Parris notes, the political fear would be that this might seem a rather cruel means to a compassionate end. Hence his unresolved question:

Do Cameron Conservatives acknowledge, even to themselves, that if they are going anywhere at all, this must be their destination?

Once again, Hannanites might well see virtue in doing so. One doubts whether the leader or his frontbench would see it quite the same way, but can not see whether they have any substantive alternative direction either.

Still, the column certainly wins Parris the Order of Merit from our anti-gobbledegook popular front, for services to clarifying the ideas of Cameronism.

This reading of Cameronism would draw from the same well as the right's traditional concern that the post-war welfare state crowded out the self-help instincts, while the left worried that the paternalistic reliance on Lady Bountiful could never guarantee the means to equal citizenship or full participation in a shared society.

The right's case was voiced by Correlli Barnett in the 1980s and is in Phillip Blond's (hyperbolic) assertion that "the state has abolished society". This would also seem to be Hannan's concern in asking, of the snow question, "Is our reliance on state intervention symptomatic of the sapping effects of big government?"

That was also what Margaret Thatcher was trying to say in the 1987 Woman's Own interview which became infamous for her "no such thing as society" remarks.

What she really meant, of course, was that there was such a thing as society, but that it is not the same as the state, as she explained on several occasions, before her phrase was adopted by David Cameron, and widely taken as distancing himself from Thatcher, despite that being an interpretation he has explicitly rejected.

So is it, after all, to be a question of getting on your bike, and getting the shovels out, in the name of Cameron's compassionate Conservatism?


Newmania said...

It is no surprise that the Conservative Party should be content with a dim and provisional future , Thank god for that . Only you believe in the earthly heaven some Goldilocks “Policy” will produce. It is more of a surprise that the left seem content to pour raw un-treated socialism into the national reservoir
Facts known to everyone outside Labour Party : ‘Rewarding neediness creates need ‘lack of social responsibility is most obvious in the Public sector‘. Why do we accept such parasitical behaviour ? Why do they have twice as many sick days , why is it that private sector workers got to work in the snow while the public sector as ever , took the piss ? The people who pay for it do not behave like that Sunder.
Your answer is more taxes , more policies , more government ?I think we tried that , and who do you think is going to hit the ground hardest when we go over the debt cliff next year ? That’s right , the weakest.
You regard you antecedents love for eugenics as an aberration but it is not. Earlier and intellectually more honest socialists saw all too well that replacing traditional loyalties with Marxist or social ones would require a New Man , a better man , they thought . Engendering social responsibility is far more urgent question for you and the silence is deafening …except more taxes and more taxes on our children and more state and more observation and more control and more more more . Surely you see we cannot go on that way ?
“Society” is a Marxist concept not a reality. Whilst Margaret Thatcher was making only a traditional conservatve point it is not a ‘construct’ immune from question , what , when you come to think of it is “society” ? Where is the “society” football team ? Nation family Community Friends command loyalty all of which you attack.
You say it is self reliance that suffers , but that is a Victorian point, it is far more than that .It is the destruction of the whole man and his replacement with a swollen immature battery chicken peeking out of cage unable to walk or even eat unaided.

Whilst an eathly heaven is likely to elude us earthly hells are all too possible and that is something Conservatives do not forget.

Newmania said...

"While I was sweating over the broom, a thought occurred: if everyone were responsible for his own patch of pavement, the disruption caused by snow would be much diminished".

If we owned it it would and no laws would be requirted that is the classic answer to the tragedy of the Common. Another is custom , which has worked ..another is a top down edict whoch you prefer