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Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Breakdown Britain and Broken Records

I have to confess, if someone got down on their knees to me , waved twenty pounds in my face and said ' how about this, every week, till death us do part?', I would be less than impressed. But I think Iain Duncan Smith was right to call for the anti-marriage tax bias be removed. His Breakdown Britain Report is an important document. It is important for the Conservative Party and it is important for the nation. It shows that modern Conservatives still have traditional values at heart - they enshrine the importance of the individual, and the bonds between people that build our society; Those who doubt David Cameron's legitimacy as a Conservative should look again as he sticks his neck out and supports the institution of marriage. The report also rightly concentrates on the severely disadvantaged, and the areas of extreme deprivation. This too is traditional ground for Conservatives, and far from being sentimental soft-touch politics, it plunges straight into the kind of problems that the oldest Conservative think tank The Bow Group was set up to look at, and recovers the ground of Conservative figures like Wilberforce. Compassion in the Conservative party is not new.

Many people have been left behind by the caravan of society that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have presided over for ten years. Social mobility has declined, numbers of those not in education, training or employment (NEETS) has rocketed under New Labour; Gordon Brown's reforms have left the very poorest worse off - but conveniently for Gordon, these are the very people who are often least likely to have a voice to shout this out.

Also convenient for Gordon is that most of this didn't happen under his Prime Ministerial watch. True, he may have been the brains behind the operation, and may have signed off all the cheques, but he is really cashing in now on distancing himself from everything his predecessor was associated with -sofa government and gloss. I am delighted if Gordon is returning more power to Parliament. But let's not celebrate him too much - Government should never have ended up on the sofa in the first place. Brown may be making a splash in changing procedure, and cutting Her Maj out of the first Queen's Speech announcements, but this is to make up for the fact that his announcements are a bit of a broken record. Take skills- we've been hearing about apprenticeships for donkey's years. Come on Gordon, it can't be that hard to replicate a model of learning and working that did the trick for countless young people not so very long ago? But we've been hearing about the need for apprenticeships for almost a decade. And what is Gordon's big solution? To rearrange structures, not look at what people actually want. The education environment is often exactly what young people who want to learn at work find so off-putting. Dragging this out to 18 is unlikely to do the trick.

So we have Iain Duncan Smith's report - widely touted as revealing the direction of a 'new socially conscious' Conservative Party , but which is actually rooted well in Conservative tradition and offers brave, gritty ways to tackle the real challenges our society faces; and Gordon Brown's effort to appear new and revolutionary, which is stuck in the mud of a dismal record on social mobility and help for the poorest.

It's not so much that Brown's a broken record, as the fact that when it comes to the hard end of social deprivation, it is a bad record, that bothers me. Thousands of families simply can't afford more repeats.

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