Tory MPs yesterday tried to play down the similarities between David Cameron’s post-riots speech and the famous “back to basics” conference speech by John Major in 1993. The latter became an albatross around Major’s neck as a string of Tory MPs were caught out in various salacious scandals in the mid-1990s.
I’ve analysed the two speeches and found some very similar echoes in tone and content. Curiously, Major does not mention “single parents” or “single mothers” or “family values” or “absent fathers” – contrary to the collective memory of what the speech was all about. (That message was instead spun by aides who pre-briefed the speech to journalists.) By contrast Cameron very clearly suggests that family breakdown is a key cause of social discontent.
(Btw note to left-wing critics of David Cameron: his speech yesterday condemned absent fathers rather than single parents – there is a big difference.)
There is also a great line in Major’s line where he calls for talented graduates to enter manufacturing instead of politics, the City or journalism; this has been the refrain of all politicians ever since, with limited impact.
JM: We live in a world that sometimes seems to be changing too fast for comfort. Old certainties crumbling. Traditional values falling away. People are bewildered.
The old values – neighbourliness, decency, courtesy – they’re still alive, they’re still the best of Britain. They haven’t changed, and yet somehow people feel embarrassed by them.
DC: Team-work, discipline, duty, decency: these might sound old-fashioned words but they are part of the solution to this very modern problem of alienated, angry young people.
JM: We’ve allowed things to happen that we should never have tolerated. We have listened too often and too long to people whose ideas are light years away from common sense.
DC: But politicians shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality … this has actually helped to cause the social problems we see around us.
We have been too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong. We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said – about everything from
marriage to welfare to common courtesy.
JM: That was the fashionable opinion, fashionable but wrong. In our schools we did away with traditional subjects – grammar, spelling, tables – and also with the old ways of teaching them. Fashionable, but wrong. Some said the family was out of date, far better rely on the council and social workers than family and friends. I passionately believe that was wrong.
DC: You don’t deal properly with children who repeatedly fail in school – because you’re worried about being accused of stigmatising them. You’re wary of talking about those who have never worked and never want to work – in case you’re charged with not getting it, being middle class and out of touch.
In this risk-free ground of moral neutrality there are no bad choices, just different lifestyles. People aren’t the architects of their own problems, they are victims of circumstance. ‘Live and let live’ becomes ‘do what you please.’
JM: Others told us that every criminal needed treatment, not punishment. Criminal behaviour was society’s fault, not the individual’s. Fashionable, but wrong, wrong, wrong.
DC: in large parts of the country this was just pure criminality … No, this was about behaviour … people showing indifference to right and wrong … people with a twisted moral code … people with a complete absence of self-restraint.
JM: It is time to return to those old core values, time to get back to basics, to self-discipline and respect for the law, to consideration for others, to accepting a responsibility for yourself and your family and not shuffling off on other people and the state.
DC: Do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations?
Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control.
JM I know criminals are a problem in a cell but they’re much more of a problem on the street. And policy must be dictated by the needs of justice, not by the number of prison places we happen to have available on any given day. If someone belongs in prison, when that is where they should be and that’s why we’re building more prisons. Better the guilty behind bars than the innocent penned in at home.
DC: We need to reclaim our streets from the thugs who didn’t just spring out of nowhere last week, but who’ve been making lives a misery for years.
And it is obvious to me that to do that we’ve got to be tough…That starts with a stronger police presence – pounding the beat, deterring crime, ready to re-group and crack down at the first sign of trouble.
It’s time for something else too. A concerted, all-out war on gangs and gang culture.
no-one should doubt this government’s determination to be tough on crime and to mount an effective security fight-back.
JM: Some time ago, I said we should condemn a little more and understand a little less. And I meant that for this reason; if we let young people at an early age think crime is a normal part of growing up, if we let them off with a caution, a caution and a caution, it is small wonder if they feel there is no peer pressure turning them to law and order, and they turn to bigger crime later.
DC: On the radio last week they interviewed one of the young men who’d been looting in Manchester. He said he was going to carry on until he got caught.
This will be my first arrest, he said. The prisons were already overflowing so he’d just get an Asbo, and he could live with that. Well, we’ve got to show him and everyone like him that the party’s over.
JM: But don’t let us delude ourselves. Fighting crime is not just a matter for the police or for the government. We can legislate, we can provide the resources. We can do all that and the police can perform miracles on the resources they have. But governments can’t make people good. That is for parents, for churches, for schools, for every single citizen.
DC: Families matter. I don’t doubt that many of the rioters out last week have no father at home. Perhaps they come from one of the neighbourhoods where it’s standard for children to have a mum and not a dad …
… where it’s normal for young men to grow up without a male role model, looking to the streets for their father figures, filled up with rage and anger.
So if we want to have any hope of mending our broken society, family and parenting is where we’ve got to start …
But with the failures in our education system so deep, we can’t just say ‘these are our plans and we believe in them, let’s sit back while they take effect’.
I now want us to push further, faster. Are we really doing enough to ensure that great new schools are set up in the poorest areas, to help the children who need them most?
JM: The message from this conference is clear and simple, we must go back to basics. We want our children to be taught the best, our public services to give the best, our British industry to be the best and the Conservative Party will lead the country back to those basic rights across the board. Sound money, free trade, traditional teaching, respect for the family and respect for the law. And above all, we will lead a new campaign to defeat the cancer that is crime.
DC: But I repeat today, as I have on many occasions these last few years, that the reason I am in politics is to build a bigger, stronger society.
Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger society … Now I know as soon as I use words like ‘behaviour’ and ‘moral’ people will say – what gives politicians the right to lecture us?Of course we’re not perfect.