But Willetts’ speech is also the Tory response to Ed Miliband’s charge that they are breaking the promise of Britain: the idea that each generation does better than the next.
Willetts, who has written a book on the subject, accepts that fairness between the generations is the biggest challenge in politics right now. He cites polling, which I understand to be the Conservatives’ own, that shows that people’s biggest anxiety today is that their children will have a worse life than them. Two thirds of people fear that the younger generation will have less opportunity than them.
He then goes on to make the case for how the Conservatives are trying to restore generational fairness. Deficit reduction is, obviously, at the heart of this. But Willetts also argues that “strengthening institutions and reinforcing reciprocity” is key to this, which Miliband has failed to appreciate.
In careful language, Willetts makes the case that one of the biggest social problems today is that in too many neighbourhoods “women can get on just as well without” men. He says “there is a problem of young men who just don’t get the skills and qualifications they need to hold down a good steady job and this in turn makes it harder to hold down a good steady relationship as well.” In Willetts’ analysis the government is addressing this problem through a combination of welfare reform and apprenticeships. What’s striking is how Willetts makes the case that two-parent families are absolutely crucial to restoring the social fabric.