The Spectator

Cameron takes on the broken society agenda

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The Spectator last week ran a piece by Andrew Neil saying "Memo to Gordon: it's the Broken Society, stupid." Was his memo intercepted? Because David Cameron has today given a speech entitled "Empowering local communities can heal our broken society." It's setting the stage for next week's IDS report. Here’s my take on his speech.

1. "You cannot mend a broken society with the clunking fist of state control". A powerful line - keep at it.

2. Cameron stresses that "power" as well as money need to go to the poor. The word "empowerment" should be right at the top of is vocabulary. It will put clear blue water between him and Brown, who believes a benign state should have the power.

3. But his plan for "a major transfer of power, money and responsibility over welfare to local councils" could be calamitous. Councils are huge beneficiaries of what I call Britain’s “poverty industry” - there are thousands of council workers whose careers depend on having lots of poor people to manage. The UK system, tragically, is geared more towards managing poverty than ending it. This is the problem, and it's embedded in local authorities. They, to a large extent, are the problem.

4. Cameron is right to criticise the appalling closure of special schools under Labour. He uses 1997 as a starting point, but I'm afraid the Tory record is even worse. Figures show Thatcher closed 219 special schools, Major closed 141 and Labour has closed just 107 by the end of 2005. As I argue below, the record of the Thatcher and Major governments was far from exemplary in the "broken society." The Tories, as a party, are on thin ice here.

5. Cameron is now regularly talking about five million people on out-of-work benefits. This is exactly the right figure to use - finally, the Tories have stopped being fooled by Brown's fake “unemployment” figure which strips out the 2.7m on incapacity benefit. All told, a promising speech - and not one they'll enjoy reading in No10. After his strong response to the terror statement and marvellous furrowed brown at PMQs, Cameron’s having a good week. I hope we’ll see him at the Spectator “summer” party this evening to congratulate him.