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As I See It

Cameron has set the reform bar very high, probably too high

Terry MurdenIn what was regarded as a courageous and bold speech to the Conservative Party conference, David Cameron set out a vision for Britain that would see the end of poverty, discrimination and extremism.  So how will he do it?

He confirmed that he will not fight another election so he has left himself less than four years to leave a legacy that at least sets the country on the road to achieving his ambitions.

Cynics will accuse him of over-promising what he cannot deliver, of spouting 55 minutes of rhetoric without firm policies beyond statements of intent.

His targets were inequality and hate: both giving rise to discontent and lives plagued by a lack of opportunity or vulnerable to dangerous influences.

His plan for the remainder of his time in office is clearly to be a reforming prime minister. He wants a “Greater” Britain, one that eliminates the forces in society that prevent access to opportunity and create the conditions that lead to drugs, poor education, discrimination of all forms, and religious hatred.

In another age these would have been the targets for a Labour or Liberal prime minister. They would not have looked out of place in Lord Beveridge’s post-war plan for the welfare state.

David Cameron annual confSolving any of them is the tallest of orders.  Mr Cameron is hardly the first prime minister who has set out to reform society and build a more equal Britain. If he is not go down as one who tried and failed he has to back up his fine words with action – and quickly.

Take his plan to build more houses. As Simon Walker of the Institute of Directors says, the scale of the challenge is “monumental”. The number of new builds has been far below what is required and this is where the problem lies in the housing market. It means fundamental changes to the planning rules and ending nimybism.

But merely allowing those in affordable homes to buy them is too simplistic. This is of no use if the occupants cannot afford the mortgage payments. There is a need to release land for building that will ease house inflation and for help such as new Help to Buy schemes and, as this is a devolved issue, a need for the Scottish government to do likewise.

Mr Cameron majored on ensuring no one was denied job opportunities or life chances because of race, mental health, disability, gender or sexual orientation. This requires firmer action against those who perpetuate such forms of discrimination. The IoD pledged to take this on board, though the CBI was strangely quiet.

Among the proposals from the IoD is removing names from CVs where possible, and paying and training interns appropriately. Such measures ought not to have waited until 2015 to be implemented and Britain’s bosses need to take a firm look at themselves and their recruitment practices.

Beyond these issues – as if they were not enough – Mr Cameron demanded a more competitive Britain and pledged to fulfil his desire to reform the European Union.

He was cheered by delegates who gave him at least five standing ovations. As they left the hall there were plenty of smiling faces, as if they had just been told it would  be Christmas every day.

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