David Cameron's Hugo Young Memorial Lecture The Big Society was one of the more fascinating developments in the political discussion over recent months. I've discussed it in my LabourList column this week.
Just how do get from his conference speech a few weeks ago to Tuesday's speech? How can you simultaneously believe, without some major philosophical gymnastics, that 'it is more government that got us into this mess' and 'we need to use the state to remake society.'
Others have had a hack at the factual basis of the speech (Next Left, Channel 4 News, and Left Foot Forward) and on this score it was very dodgy indeed.
However, there is a much more interesting point to make. There is clearly a battle for the soul of the Leader of the Opposition in his private office. On Tuesday, Steve Hilton won. Steve Hilton is the good Cameron, progressive to his core. However, the conference Cameron was Thatcherite to his core. The good Cameron is far more intriguing. I have to say that notion that you can use the state to remake civil society is truly radical. Most social democrats, myself included, would be cautious about pursuing that as a notion. And yet, here you have the leader of the Conservative party making exactly that point.
If he really meant all this as a fundamental attack on poverty, he would have to make arguments about redistribution, asset and wealth transfer, large scale investment and he is not willing to make those arguments. However, in terms of building a more mutualistic, solidaristic, and activist society that takes more reciprocal responsibility- and I regard all that to be absolutely the right thing to seek- his arguments do perhaps have some force.
The real question becomes which David Cameron will emerge from this internal struggle (within the Tory party and within himself)? We can't say but Osborne-ite masochistic economics might force the answer. That would be a pity.