Friday 22 January 2010

The Tories and the trust fund

Tory MP Douglas Carswell told the Fabian New Year Conference that the Tories weren’t taking their ideas from Hayek nowadays so much as former Blair adviser Julian Le Grand. In which case, does this suggest an imminent shift in Conservative policy on the child trust fund? Or have they not been reading the latest Fabian Review, in which Le Grand stresses the importance of defending one of Labour’s “greatest achievements”? It's “under threat” from both the Tories and Lib Dems, he says.

You can read the whole article here.

Le Grand – always more social democratic than his New Labour public service reform-guru tag suggested – was a key architect of the policy and writes how the idea that all young people should begin their adult lives with financial assets “has been translated into a successful, popular programme with the potential to transform the lives of its beneficiaries.”

“The child trust fund is a national treasure – both literally and metaphorically. It must not be allowed to die…”

By mentioning Le Grand, Carswell was attempting to show a Fabian audience that the Tories have moved on from previous new right orthodoxy and are operating on the same mainstream ‘progressive’ territory that Tony Blair was. Perhaps so. There is a danger of appearing a bit faddy, however, and adding to the perception that ‘progressive Conservatism’ doesn’t run all that deep, if one of the totems of Le Grandism is also the first policy a Tory administration will drop. (And indeed is one of the very few explicit Tory pledges)

It is also worth considering Le Grand’s article in the context of another related post-Fabian Conference discussion: meritocracy.

For a more comprehensive investigation of meritocracy, see Stuart White’s post on Next Left earlier in the week. But there are essentially two problems with meritocracy: the morally arbitrary nature of merit creating what Roy Hattersley calls “patterns of shifting inequality”; and the fact that the merit race is rigged to begin with.

The child trust fund addresses the second of these: correcting some of the pre-existing inequalities that make meritocracy so flawed, by giving everyone access to the kind of capital that is commonplace amongst the better off. It is also one of the areas in which the government’s ‘progressive universalism’ has proved most effective. As our recent report The Solidarity Society argued, ensuring the middle classes have a stake in the welfare state is crucial to fighting poverty and inequality and preventing the poor falling even further behind the rest. And, by focusing on “families on middle and modest incomes”, and singling out the child trust fund, the prime minister’s Fabian speech recognised this:

“And this is a decisive difference between the parties, because today it is only Labour which recognises that middle class families – not just the poorest – welcome and benefit from Labour’s children's centres.

And it is Labour and not the Conservatives that recognise that middle class families - not just the poorest - want help building up their children’s savings through Labour’s child trust fund.

It is Labour not the Conservatives that recognise that middle class parents - not just the poorest - need support through Labour’s tax credits.

And it is Labour but not the Conservatives that recognise that middle class families - not just the poorest - need help for the elderly to stay and be looked after in their own homes.”

The speech in the most part advertised a greatest hits package to market during a New Labour comeback tour this spring. But – beyond the questionable political logic of using the same old social mobility refrain for “an election that will be fought on terrain quite unlike the political landscape of preceding decades” – these passages show a more nuanced substance.

New Labour still frustratingly insists on burying laudable policy goals beneath political pitches to mythical swing voters. But at a time when many are trying to get their heads round whether to take ‘progressive Conservatism’ seriously or not, this passage reveals a Labour agenda much closer to Le Grandism than Carswell’s name dropping.

1 comment:

Stuart White said...

This is a great post, Ed - both in terms of what it says about the CTF but also in terms of what it says about Brown's speech. My own reaction focused just on the rather (to me) dreary headline-grabbing bit about meritocracy and ignored the excellent defence of universalism.