Peter Hoskin

A wider philosophy

A wider philosophy
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David Cameron's given his speech at the Conservative Spring Forum.  I haven't got access to a television at the moment, so I don't know what his delivery was like - (can any CoffeeHousers fill us in?) - but the content certainly reads well.

As Fraser said yesterday, the big theme is family.  So plenty of talk about rewarding marriage in the tax system and extending parental leave etc. etc.  However, what's particularly impressive is how Cameron makes this message part of a wider philosophy.  Take, for instance, this passage:

"But let me make a firm commitment right now. Labour are planning an increase in outreach workers at Surestart centres, as one way of supporting parents with young children. That's their idea. But money is tight and we've got to make choices. So I believe that instead of more untrained outreach workers, we need more trained professionals who really know what they're doing. They exist already. They're called health visitors. Highly-trained NHS professionals who come to your home and build up a strong, trusting, personal relationship with your family. They have a huge part to play in making everything seem manageable. They don't judge, they help out. And that's why it's not surprising that overwhelmingly, parents say it's this kind of help and support they want: from a trained professional, in the home.

But under Labour, the number of health visitors is in freefall. Many are set to retire, with no plans to replace them. It's got so bad that in some parts of the country you're lucky to see one at all. According to one report, the drop in health visitors has led to serious medical conditions going unnoticed, poor diet - and even cases of rickets.

That's why I'm announcing today that a Conservative Government will provide a universal health visiting service to all parents. We're going to radically increase the number of health visitors so that every family can count on the proper, professional support they need. Another 4,200 health visitors. With money set aside for proper training and extra help for families in the most deprived areas...

...Don't listen to the desperate Labour lie that this is an attack on Surestart. It's about making Surestart work better. And it shows the big difference between us. You've got to be careful with public money - especially when times are tough. But Labour are casual with public money - and that's why there's been so much waste. Now they want to spend £200 million on a new army of outreach workers with no medical training. Instead of endlessly dreaming up extra things for the state to do, we believe in making sure the state does the things it's supposed to do, well."

It's one of his strongest attacks on government waste - and one of his strongest paeans to public spending restraint - yet.  And, crucially, the "family-friendly" terminology will make it hard for Labour to use their tired "More Tory cuts" response.  If Cameron can transplant this approach to other policy areas - and make the public hear "waste" when Labour say "investment" - than he'll have won a major battle of the pre-election campaign.

P.S. Another passage deserves quoting.  It's something of a Cameroonian social contract, and I'd be keen to hear CoffeeHousers' thoughts:

"More flexible working. Extending parental leave. Corporate responsibility. More NHS health visitors. I know what some of you might be thinking. All this family-friendly stuff he's going on about: it's not really very Conservative, is it? Let me tell you why I think it's not just Conservative, but it's seriously Conservative.

If we Conservatives are serious when we say we want a smaller state and lower taxes, we have to have a serious plan for making it happen. And the truth is this: you won't end up with sustainably lower taxes unless you cut the real costs of government. And the real costs of government are the social problems that cause public spending, and the state, to grow and grow. And the whole point is that we Conservatives know that government cannot solve these problems on its own. So when, for example, we discuss this with business, here is the argument I will make. You in business - you want the same things I want: less tax, less red tape. I want to help you cut your costs, the costs imposed by government. But to do that, you're going to have to help me cut my costs - the costs on society imposed by some of the things that business does.

That's why this family-friendly stuff is Conservative - seriously Conservative. It's about solving our social problems for the long term. Reducing demands on the state. And showing that the way to do it is through social responsibility, not state control."