Tuesday 13 April 2010

Revealed: the real author of Cameron's big society soundbite: not Sam Cam, but Maggie

David Cameron was clear in launching the Conservative Party manifesto today as to what his core argument is.

And all of it brought together by my fundamental belief...

...that there is such a thing as society; it's just not the same thing as the state.

So yes, this is a modern, progressive Conservative manifesto.

It is confirmation that this party has changed...

In an essay on the Progressive Conservatism in the new issue of Fabian Review I return to the mystery of who can really claim to have authored the argument which defines Cameronism.

The answer is not, as the Tory party has recently claimed, Samantha Cameron.

A better claim can be made that its real author is Margaret Thatcher.

This central ambiguity of Cameronism – whether he seeks to break with Thatcherism, or rehabilitate it for gentler times.

This is encapsulated in his signature soundbite: "there is such a thing as society: it’s just not the same thing as the state".

The mood music is Thatcher-distancing. Tory aides tell journalists the phrase was coined by Samantha Cameron, presented as a refreshingly untribal influence.

But the leader's wife is not the original author.

Proper credit should go to another influential Tory woman: Margaret Thatcher.

Her Keith Joseph memorial lecture of 1996 argued that "To set the record straight, once again, I have never minimised the importance of society, only contested the assumption that society means the State rather than other people".

David Cameron often reaches out to progressive audiences, and he goes to great lengths to avoid uttering a syllable of criticism of Thatcherism when doing so. So he skipped out the 1980s entirely when talking about poverty across the last century in his Hugo Young lecture at the Guardian.

He does not therefore contradict himself when telling right-wing audiences that he finds the Thatcher record "awe inspiring", that he is "basically a Lawsonian" on flatter taxes, and that "those who ask whether I am a Conservative need to know that the foundation stones of the alternative government that we're building are the ideas that encouraged me as a young man to join the Conservative Party and work for Margaret Thatcher", as he wrote in the Telegraph.

So there we are. Plus ca change.

1 comment:

Braveheart said...


This should be the basis of a newspaper article by one of our prominent politicians...

I have often been frustrated at the fact that Cameron is never asked why he, nice clean Dave, joined the Tories when they were the nastiest of nasty parties.

Now we know...he liked them, nasty or not, they suit his philosophy...