James Forsyth

Hope springs eternal

Hope springs eternal
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The Tory press conference this morning, launching their plan for National Citizen Service, shows how they hope to run a two track campaign. On the one hand, they want to be hammering Labour over their plans to increase National Insurance — Cameron called it a ‘a recovery killer, an economy killer, a job killer’ and said that Labour wanted people to pay ‘taxes for government waste’. On the other, they want to be presenting hopeful, optimistic ideas like a National Citizen Service. This fusion campaigning enables the Tories both to be attacking Labour and presenting themselves as the party that is offering a positive alternative.

National Citizen Service is very Cameron. He’s been toying with the idea since 2005. It reflects his brand of social conservatism; it’s telling that this will not be state provided. Intriguingly, the government money that will go towards these pilot projects will come from the DCLG’s contribution to PREVENT, the government’s anti-radicalisation programme for young Muslims.

It will not be compulsory to do National Citizen Service. The Tory aim is to make people want to do it; this does raise the question of how, for example, they are going to get Muslim girls from strict families to take part. Judging from the briefing note they put out at today’s press conference, there will probably be extra funding for schemes that take on disabled children or those from difficult backgrounds. The Tories also want people to raise some of the money for the courses themselves through sponsorship.

One intriguing aspect of the scheme is that the Tories say they are particularly keen for it to reach ‘people who have been through the criminal justice system.’ One could argue that this is sensible, that these people are particularly in need of an experience that would teach them self-discipline and respect for others. But one can imagine that some parents might not be so keen to send their children away with a youth offender. (I’m waiting to hear back from the Tories on whether there are any offences that would disqualify people from receiving state funding).  

In this first week of the campaign proper, there has been a major effort to recapture the ‘let sunshine win the day’ spirit of the first phase of Cameron’s leadership. Gone is talk of an ‘age of austerity’ and in is ‘putting joy in people’s souls.’

PS: Sir Michael Caine gave a surprise endorsement to the Tory campaign. Here's what he had to say at this morning's press conference: