The Thick of It

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No such thing as a broken society

In his Telegraph column yesterday, Mayor Boris Johnson dubbed Tory leader David Cameron's claim that British society is broken, "piffle." Conservative Home rightly pointed out that this high level disagreement was overshadowed by Tim Parker's resignation yesterday. Some other titles picked up on this (Daily Mail, Paul Waugh at the Evening Standard).

Cameron wants to denigrate today's society and is positioning himself as best placed to fix it. Aside from my view that the Cameron/Osbourne proposals (supporting marriage, being tough on crime, fewer tax credits) to fix the breaks are likely to make things worse not better, I think we really need to highlight how this analysis is wrong in the first place. Therefore BJ's intervention is most helpful. Of course there are social problems in Britain, but to claim that Britain is socially broken is both cynical and wrong.

Cameron needs to tar British society with the brush of failure because governments lose elections and for Labour to lose they need to be shown to have failed. However, aside from political necessity I think this analysis is more dangerous. In the same way that talking of a looming economic recession can damage business and consumer confidence leading to lower spending and investment and recession, talk of a broken society can make people feel less safe, more cynical and negative about their neighbourhood.

I don't always agree with him, but on this occasion Jack Straw is exactly right:

Boris Johnson has exposed David Cameron's mantra that Britain is broken for what it is: Piffle.

'Only this week, the Tory leader was again saying our country is broken. Yet today the mayor has been frank in his opposition to his leader's claim, which has always been the most cynical nonsense.

'Whatever David Cameron might say, Britain is a decent, compassionate and vibrant nation, and on almost every measure it has got better in the past decade. No one has broken Britain and no one ever will.'

Our country is not broken like Cameron wants to claim, far from it. We should not write off our young people otherwise we may get the response we deserve. Hopefully our mayor can show the leadership where he has so far failed and ensure London's young are not written off.

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