Saturday, June 05, 2010

A Conservative Government With a Poverty Tsar

David Cameron appoints Labour MP to combat poverty

When one considers that the British Conservative Party holds the lion's share of the seats occupied by the current government of Britain -- 306 seats to 57 for their partner Liberal Democrats -- one would expect that the coalition government would behave more like a conservative government and less like a socialist government.

Many conservatives would question whether or not this has actually been the case. One Prime Minister David Cameron's most recent announcements is that he has recruited Labour MP Frank Field to chair a committee examining poverty in Great Britain and making recommendations on how to fight it.

A particular focus will be paid to child poverty.

In political terms, Field is actually a natural choice to work with Cameron's coalition government. Field briefly served as Minister responsible for welfare reform under Tony Blair before subsequently resigning from Gordon Brown's government over policy issues.

Field was told to "think the unthinkable" by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. According to now-Prime Minister David Cameron, there is much more to Field than merely that.

"For a long time Frank has been willing to say the unsayable," Cameron remarked, noting that Field's approach to poverty is one that carries distinct conservative overtones. "He has argued that the welfare state should be more than a money-redistribution system but rather 'openly reward good behaviour and used to enhance those roles which the country values'."

"He has drawn the link between family breakdown and more instability, more crime, greater pressure on housing and social benefits, arguing that a fundamental principle of the welfare state should be to support families and children," Cameron continued. "Understanding the real causes of poverty - both financial and non financial, including the importance of families and the pre-school years - is vital if we are going to make Britain a fairer society in which opportunity is more equal."

Many conservatives would think that Cameron has appointed a poverty tsar at all is discouraging, regardless of how palatable that individual's ideas should be to them.

But that isn't all. Cameron has also appointed left-wing media pundit Will Hutton to serve as his "fair pay tsar".

Hutton will lead Cameron's promised inquiry into pay inequities in the private sector. It should be unthinkable to conservatives that they would legislate how highly corporate executives should be paid, instead of adopting a superior conservative approach: empowering shareholders to claw back extraneous executive salaries through internal measures within such companies, and lawsuits outside the companies when executives have not acted in the best interests of the shareholders.

Yet under Hutton's influence it seems that something more like the former may happen.

And while the notion of fighting child poverty is something that any proper conservative should find emotionally appealing, it should be remembered that impoverished children are members of impoverished families. The key to eliminating child poverty is not single-minded government action, but economic growth that will provide well-paying jobs for said families.

David Cameron clearly has a difficult task before him -- trying to keep his own Tory caucus satisfied, while satisfying enough of his partners' demands to keep the coalition government alive.

But this should by no means be treated as a good enough reason to give the store away. Some conservatives may be concerned that this is precisely what David Cameron is doing.

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