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11th May 2011, 3:55pm
Has compassionate Conservatism been forgotten?
A carer holds the hand of an elderly person Talk of a new brand of compassionate Conservatism appears to have been forgotten amidst the clamour to cut the budget deficit, according to a new book by leading social policy thinkers.

In ‘The Conservative Party and Social Policy’ a range of experienced commentators chart the origins of the dramatic changes proposed by the current Government for areas including health, education, housing and welfare.

The book, published by The Policy Press, provides a timely analysis of the impact of social policy reforms set in motion by the Conservative and Liberal-Democrat Coalition during its first year in power.

It includes chapters detailing the Conservative Party’s post-war record on the welfare state, its historical responses to changes in public opinion and its record on controlling public expenditure. There are also in-depth explorations of how current policies on the NHS, social security and criminal justice have evolved.

Editor Hugh Bochel, professor of Public Policy at the University of Lincoln and a respected social policy commentator, offers his perspective on how David Cameron's pre-election promise of a new compassionate Conservatism has been borne out since May 2010.

"It was David Cameron's early leadership which was really the catalyst for this book," said Prof Bochel. "Right up until the General Election, he talked about a different type of Conservatism, distancing himself from Thatcherism. He talked about a commitment to tackling poverty and inequality, which was something we hadn't heard from a Conservative leader for many years. He was attempting to change the face of the Conservative Party to make them electable again, in much the way Tony Blair had done with the Labour Party a decade earlier. It's interesting to see how much of what was said before last year’s General Election appears to have been forgotten. The question is whether that pre-election talk was just rhetoric, or whether tackling the deficit really is so fundamental it overrides everything else.”

The book considers the accusation from certain quarters that some of the most significant social policy changes now being sought, notably to the NHS and higher education, are in reality driven not by fiscal necessity but by ideological goals with firm roots in Thatcherism. It also assesses the extent to which the Liberal-Democrats have moderated Conservative Party thinking in areas such as family policy.

“Judgements of the Conservative Party’s performance on social policies will be coloured above all else by how the Coalition deals with the impact of public spending cuts in the face of the budget deficit,” added Prof Bochel. “If the Coalition lasts into 2014 or beyond, social policy will look very different to how it did in 2010, with a smaller role for the state and a larger role for the private, voluntary and community sectors. The test for the Government will be its ability to maintain key areas of provision by the state on smaller budgets or to encourage the development of alternative structures, including a successful Big Society, to deliver many of the services on which people depend.”

The ‘Conservative Party and Social Policy’, edited by Hugh Bochel, is published by The Policy Press (ISBN 9781847424327).

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