The Cameron Social Contract
His big theme – or meta-narrative - is the central importance of the family. Cranmer has written upon this matter before, and he is delighted to hear Mr Cameron talk of rewarding marriage in the tax system and extending parental leave. Marriage (of male and female) is manifestly the foundational building block of civil society, attested to by millennia of empirical evidence. And it is right that the institution should be supported by the state because not all ‘lifestyle choices’ are equal and not all should be equally endowed. Cranmer believes that it is right and noble and good that the financial liberties of the individual should be curtailed to support families in the bringing up of children, for only by acknowledging the supremacy of the nuclear family will civil society rediscover its civility at all.
But it is even more of a delight to hear how such policies fuse with wider Conservative philosophy. Eschewing any promise of tax cuts (with which, as much as he longs for them, Cranmer agrees), Mr Cameron states that ‘money is tight and we've got to make choices’.
Well, indeed it is, and, as a man trying to persuade the British public that he should be the next prime minister, indeed he does. But it is not so much that these choices have to resonate with the British people, but that there should be choices at all.
At the moment, Labour provides ‘untrained outreach workers’, while Mr Cameron insists that 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...’
Mr Cameron insists that he will ‘be careful with public money - especially when times are tough’, and this is the foundation of his Conservatism. It is not his money, and neither is it the Government’s; it belongs to the people. His mantra will be that ‘Labour investment’ amounts to nothing more than ‘Government waste’, and with this he is pledged to stop government profligacy and to be responsible with public spending.
And when he pledges to do this against a backdrop of ‘family-friendly’ terminology, and dares to be filmed by cameras in his home in order that people may see what an utterly ‘ordinary bloke’ he is, one begins to detect the Cameron Social Contract. He desires ‘more flexible working, extending parental leave, corporate responsibility, more NHS health visitors’.
It may be the sort of ‘touch-feely’ Conservatism that irks those who are persuaded by the dogma of individualism, but true Conservatism has never exalted the individual above civil society; indeed, it is a parody to insist that it ever did. The small state and lower taxes will happen, but only when families are assisted in their raison d’être and disfunctionality ceases to be a drain on the public purse. It is strong families which will mitigate social problems, and by promising to invest in them Mr Cameron shows himself to be a man of integrity and vision.
The liberties of the individual are enhanced when they are curtailed to augment the liberties of the family, because within communitarianism is a mutual protection and peace. The group collectively is more important than each individual that makes it up. The sovereign and the general will are more important than its subjects and their particular wills.
And before anyone condemns Cranmer for inclining toward state totalitarianism, consider for a moment that we now live in an age where individual rights have become the supreme expression of being; a totalitarianism that insults civil society and breeds mutually exclusive and perpetually competing sub-communities who will never acknowledge the primacy of the whole. Under Labour, the British people are not free at all, and there are profound difficulties in interacting with one another in any meaningful way. Decisions and behaviour are largely dictated by an over-mighty and arrogant executive that believes it rules by a notion of divine right.
If Mr Cameron is doing anything with this announcement, it is establishing that the zeitgeist of relativism is at an end. The focus on the smallest community – the family – does not intrude upon individuality; rather, in the long term, it gives individuality an outlet for its fullest expression. As Mr Cameron says: ‘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.’
Under a Cameron premiership, the state will privilege the family.
And Cranmer says amen to that.