Is David Cameron more 'one nation' or Thatcherite?
Nevertheless, the Conservatives dominated the Coalition and after the 2015 general election were able to form an all Conservative Government and so it is possible to ask whether Cameron’s policies have been more One Nation or more Thatcherite in character. In doing this it is important to look at both the language used which may promote a particular view but also the actual policies carried out.
For a One Nation Cameron Government
- Whereas the predominant idea during the Thatcher period was that wealth created by the rich would ‘trickle down’ to lower income groups, the Cameron Government have been pursued the idea that poverty has to be tackled directly. Cameron defined ‘helping people out of poverty’ as one of the key aspects of Progressive Conservatism and bringing people off benefits has been presented as a means of doing this. The Troubled Families Initiative was designed to change the behaviour of problem families and integrate them into the rest of society.
- Cameron has talked about the need for equality of opportunity and George Osborne, during and since the election, has promoted the Conservatives as the party that helps working families partly to counter Labour’s appeal to people who have not seen their wages rise since 2010. The 2015 Budget introduced a ‘Living Wage’ which employers would have to pay, in effect a large increase in the Minimum Wage, and the Conservatives have taken over the policy, originally promoted by the Liberal Democrats, of exempting low wage earners from income tax.
- The Conservatives have safeguarded spending on education and the National Health Service from the large public expenditure cuts that have taken place and also protected old age pensions in recognition that Government needs to provide in these kay areas. They have also shown a concern with poverty by protecting the International Development budget.
- Cameron adopted the traditional Conservative idea that voluntary organisations and the family are important in binding society together, in contrast to Thatcherite ideas of individualism. The’ Big Society’ initiative was designed to encourage local organisations and volunteers to provide services and improve neighbourhoods. The limited success of the initiative led Cameron to abandon the initiative by the end of the Coalition Government. The Cameron Governments have also promoted some decentralisation of power to local communities and local councils in contrast to the centralisation of the Thatcher period.
- Cameron has adopted a more inclusive view of society by a concern for minority groups. He saw through legislation on gay marriage, despite the opposition of many Conservatives, and has shown more concern to promote racial equality, for example by ensuring the selection of ethnic minority Conservative parliamentary candidates, than previous Conservative Prime Ministers.
For a Thatcherite Cameron Government
- The deficit reduction programme is now leading to a substantial reduction in the size of the State. Although spending on the NHS and schools has been largely maintained, other areas have been drastically reduced. Local Government has practically lost its ability to provide services other than those which it is legally obliged to provide, such as adult social care and child protection and many areas such as libraries will now be run by volunteers. Many Government bodies that provided advice have been abolished and the size of the main Government ministries has been reduced.
- The Cameron Government have decided to reduce the public sector deficit by cutting public expenditure rather than by raising taxation, except for an early increase in VAT. George Osborne’s economic plans will reduce public expenditure as a proportion of GDP to the level that existed before 1939.
- The Government maintains a deregulated economy. The Government has not carried out a major reorganisation of the banking sector and opposed Labour’s proposals to regulate the energy companies. Government departments are told that, wherever possible, regulations affecting business should be removed.
- The promotion of competition has continued in the public sector with a large planned increase in free schools and the awarding of contracts in the NHS to private firms.
- After initially promoting a positive role within the EU, Cameron has been pushed by his backbenchers and UKIP into an increasingly Eurosceptic stance. He is hoping to renegotiate terms with the EU including limiting the free movement of people, reducing the power of the Commission, cutting the EU budget, giving more power to national parliaments and keeping non-Euro countries out of further integration. If he wins the referendum on this basis then he may move to a more pro-EU stance but if he loses then withdrawal would probably go beyond what Mrs Thatcher envisaged.
- The new Conservative Government has introduced trade union legislation which will severely regulate the right to strike and the way in which strikes are conducted.