Danny Kruger

History won’t look kindly on David Cameron for more reasons than the referendum

‘Bad policy.’ ‘No discernible impact on the key outcomes it was supposed to improve.’ ‘Deliberate misrepresentation of the data… a funding model that could have been designed to waste money’. ‘A waste of £1.3 billion’. ‘Failed’.

The media’s treatment of the troubled families programme, whose evaluation has recently been made public, cannot have cheered David Cameron in his last week as an MP. History does not look likely to be kind to his great social policy. We should, however, be grateful to the former prime minister for his quixotic attempt to do the right thing on a massive scale. Because in doing so he exposed the fallacy which has dominated social policy since 1945: the idea that the government is infinitely capable of solving social problems.

Our politicians seem to be finally realising that it can’t. As Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons Public Accounts Committee, put it last week, when she asked Dame Louise Casey, the civil servant in charge of the troubled families programme, ‘Don’t you think this is too big a challenge for government to get a grip on?’

Dame Louise is the doyenne of big challenges that central government has tried to get a grip on. Formerly the ‘Respect tsar’ tasked by Tony Blair to solve homelessness and crack down on yobbery, she was David Cameron’s favourite civil servant, too. You can see why. Sweary, informal and apparently irreverent of the niceties, her actual mission is to make everyone respectable, middle class and patriotic.

When riots engulfed English cities in the summer of 2011 and Mr Cameron decided to stop this happening again, Dame Louise Casey had a solution ready. In her Respect years she had overseen the extension of a small project founded in Dundee called Action for Children.

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