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Was David Cameron more ‘one nation’ or Thatcherism in his style as Prime Minister?

After the 2015 UK general election, David Cameron was able to form a majority conservative government. Between 2010-2015 he had been in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats.

In examining David Cameron’s Prime Ministerial style 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 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 was 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 talked about the need for equality of opportunity and George Osborne, during and since the election, promoted the Conservatives as the party that helped working families partly to counter Labour’s appeal to people who had 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 took over the policy, originally promoted by the Liberal Democrats, of exempting low wage earners from income tax.

      The Conservatives, under David Cameron, safeguarded spending on education and the National Health Service from the large public expenditure cuts and also protected old age pensions in recognition that Government needed to provide in these key areas.  They also protected 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 promoted some decentralisation of power to local communities and local councils in contrast to the centralisation of the Thatcher period.

        Cameron 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 showed more concern to promote racial equality, for example by ensuring the selection of ethnic minority Conservative parliamentary candidates.

For a Thatcherite Cameron Government

        The deficit reduction programme led to a substantial reduction in the size of the State.  Although spending on the NHS and schools was largely maintained, other areas were drastically reduced.  Local Government has been heavily impacted, some say to the point where practically it can only provide services  it is legally obliged to provide, such as adult social care and child protection. Many areas such as libraries began to be run by volunteers. Many Government bodies that provided advice were abolished and the size of the main Government ministries has been reduced.

        The Cameron Government reduced 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 were intended to reduce public expenditure as a proportion of GDP to the level that existed before 1939.

        The Government maintained a deregulated economy.  The Government did not carry out a major reorganisation of the banking sector and opposed Labour’s proposals to regulate the energy companies.  Government departments were told that, wherever possible, regulations affecting business should be removed.

        The promotion of competition 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 was pushed by his backbenchers and the UK Independence Party into an increasingly Eurosceptic stance.

        The Conservative Government introduced trade union legislation. The impact, some said, would severely regulate the right to strike and the way in which strikes are conducted.