Parties swap places on compassion divide

    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
    staff turnover.

    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.

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