Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the Conservative party, has
set up shop away from Westminster in Lambeth, one of the poorest
boroughs in the country. His new think-tank, the Centre for Social
Justice, is as much about doing, he says, as thinking. He argues
that the Tories can win power again only if they can persuade
people to vote not just for what is best for themselves but also
what is best for their neighbours.
His words are welcome, particularly when Oliver Letwin, the shadow
chancellor, persistently lets slip that his own political tendency
is to cut public spending and cut again.
IDS may also impress if he sticks to his belief in giving money to
voluntary groups “without strings”, knowing that some will fail. As
we all know, Labour’s fixation with form filling, rigid goals and
perpetual monitoring ensures that many self-help groups collapse
from bureaucracy fatigue long before they can deliver.
A national survey of street-based projects working with young
people who are not in education, training or employment has found
that these schemes work well when given adequate long-term
resources. But too many suffer from short-term funding and high
Extending street-based youth projects to the most deprived 50 per
cent of areas in England and Wales would cost about £142m a
year – about 4 per cent of the budget in those areas for secondary
schools. Will it happen? Not a chance. Unless, of course, a
high-profile champion such as IDS decides to adopt it as one of the
early testing grounds for his commitment to “compassionate
The survey is particularly telling because it reveals the
constraints on effective practice when target-driven, single-issue
goals are the norm, preventing the kind of holistic support that
can turn a life around. Time is particularly precious.
“It can take upwards of a year, realistically, because you’re
taking on someone who has a hopeless view of the future and really
rudimentary skills,” says one project worker.
An irony is emerging in British politics. Tony Blair is frightened
to expand the good work his government has undertaken, particularly
in tackling social exclusion, for fear of alienating Middle
England. And IDS believes that one way to attract back that
middle-class vote is to underline the need to help the
marginalised. Their respective positions tell us more about New
Labour’s metamorphosis under Blair than it reveals about the Tory
party’s future prospects.