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Who can fix it if you’re fat, or disliked, or you’ve wasted your money?

  • July 10th, 2008

Read  the whole of UK Tory Party leader David Cameron’s "broken society" speech. Then look at the intelligentsia’s variously surprised, suspicious, cynical, or bitter reactions (for example the commentary in the Guardian, the Mirror, the local Glaswegian paper, the leader of the Liberal Democrats ).

Cameron is saying the solutions require personal responsibility. But the reactions show where he could legitimately lay much of the blame for the breakdown in belief in personal responsibility. The intelligentsia reacts furiously to questioning of their faith. They’ve spent the 60 years since the second world war desperately peddling collective fault as a substitute for personal responsibility.

This is a major strategic move. Instead of backing off ,Cameron has followed up with more.

Could he be heading in the direction explored years ago under Jim Bolger then Jenny Shipley? Remember the draft Code of Social and Family Responsibility? It included trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The effort wilted under withering attack as a "Nanny State" measure from one  H Clark. She added that Shipley "wants to busy herself with what goes on in the homes of the nation in areas which families regard as their own responsibility". Need anything more be said?

Here are some of Cameron’s key passages:

"We talk about people being ‘at risk of obesity’ instead of talking about people who eat too much and take too little exercise. Of course circumstances – where you are born, your neighbourhood, your school, and the choices your parents make – have a huge impact. But social problems are often the consequences of the choices that people make."

"We as a society have been far too sensitive. In order to avoid injury to people’s feelings, in order to avoid appearing judgemental, we have failed to say what needs to be said. We have seen a decades-long erosion of responsibility, of social virtue, of self-discipline, respect for others, deferring gratification instead of instant prettification

"Instead we prefer a moral neutrality, a refusal to make judgements about what is good and bad behaviour, right and wrong behaviour. Bad, good, right, wrong: these are words that our political system and our public sector scarcely use any more."

"There is a danger of becoming quite literally a de-moralised society, where nobody will tell the truth about what is good and bad, right and wrong. That is why children are growing up without boundaries, thinking they can do as they please, and why no adult will intervene to stop them – including often their parents."

Labour fury is predictable, but what about some of the other typical reactions:

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, lambasted the Tory leader for "debasing" arguments about social problems.

Unison, the public sector union, said: "People who work in the public sector spend their daily lives looking after people, caring for the sick, teaching kids and making sure our streets are clean and safe. They are not helped at all by such silly comments by someone who ought to know better."

I bet most of Unison’s members, who actually face the demoralised, would have endorsed  Cameron’s commnets.

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