Niall Cooper: The end of compassion?
What are we to make of the Conservative government and of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition (aka the Labour party)? Is either party really committed to tackling poverty, protecting the welfare safety net, or speaking up for the poorest and most vulnerable? Is the Conservative party committed to “compassionate conservatism”, or is really still the “nasty party” it became under Mrs Thatcher? Is Labour still true to its roots as the party of “working people” and the champion of the welfare state, or has it sold its soul? Even to ask such questions provoke strong reactions in the Church, as much as in wider society. But can we trust our politicians to champion the poor?
Part of the legacy of two decades of Thatcherism was the Tory party’s image as the “nasty party”: A party which cared little for the poor and the vulnerable; a party that was willing to take a swipe at single parents, benefit “scroungers” and other groups who were considered a threat to society. Mrs Thatcher may have been strong, decisive and a whole host of other things, but, even her strongest defenders would struggle to describe her style of political leadership as compassionate.
Ten years ago, “compassionate Conservatism” was espoused by a bevy of senior Conservatives (chief amongst them David Cameron) as part of the wider project to detoxify the Conservatives of their “nasty party” image. At the heart of the project was the work of the centre for social justice: Iain Duncan Smith’s programme to re-engage with issues of poverty and society and come up with a positive agenda to tackle “broken Britain”. Iain Duncan Smith has admirably stuck to his guns in government, forcing through the introduction of universal credit – which, though it has its faults, is fundamentally a welcome attempt to redesign and simplify the benefits system to genuinely ensure that work pays.
This is an extract from the September 2015 edition of Reform.