The Cameron Critique

Yuval Levin, one of my Fourth Way comrades, is working on what is sure to be a very important piece on McCain’s domestic policy, and he made a very important point when I last saw him — conservatism, by its nature, is about reform. Reform, after all, is profoundly un-radical. It is about taking existing institutions that have strayed from their original purpose, that are failing to achieve the goals they set out to achieve, and revitalizing them. Is Social Security as it exists the best way to provide for older Americans? Did its creators anticipate the rise of two-earner households, increased longevity, and a decades-long wealth boom that has rightly raised expectations? Our patchwork healthcare regime is a byproduct of inflation-fighting efforts dating back at least to the second world war. It has grown strikingly inadequate as firms disaggregate, employment patterns shift, and the genomics revolution steadily advances. The same can be said of everything from education to policing and national defense. Hence the relevance of the Cameron project.

‘Labour has moved a lot of people from just below the poverty line to just above it and claimed success,’ says Mr Cameron. ‘The Left’s answer is to use lots of taxpayers’ money to change benefits and tax credits, so that you solve the symptom of poverty which is shortage of money. The cause of poverty is the drugs, alcohol, the crime, educational underachievement, family breakdown and worklessness.’ This distinction between causes and symptom lies at the heart of the new Tory analysis.

This is easier said than done. And that will be the true test — will Boris Johnson succeed in lowering the ideological temperature of urban politics, and he use the limited powers and resources of his office to shift the correlation of forces in favor of creative reformers in the boroughs and, most importantly, in civil society? We’ll see.