- 10 августа 2013, 23:25
Former Tory adviser Danny Kruger regrets vanishing of 'compassionate Conservatism', and says big society ethos is lost
David Cameron's vision of a compassionate Conservatism has been lost in a lurch to the right, according to the prime minister's former adviser who coined the "hug a hoodie" line.
Danny Kruger, Cameron's former speechwriter, said the prime minister had allowed his ambitions to be hijacked by a rhetoric centred on "bashing burglars and sending immigrants home", instead of an optimistic agenda that would benefit communities.
Kruger said Cameron had lost his pre-election drive and energy and that his reforming programme, including the "big society" ethos, had fallen victim to cowardice in the face of criticism from the media and his own backbenchers.
"I fear the rhetoric will, rather than lauding the 'big society', become more about bashing burglars and sending immigrants home and cutting taxes, rather than what was intentionally a transformative agenda around renewing and reviving local social relationships and making communities function. It's harder to articulate, but so much more important," said Kruger. A more nuanced conservatism, as a result, had been buried beneath a hardline rhetoric that viewed criminals as "objects of contempt" instead of people.
"I'd like to know where David Cameron's compassionate Conservatism has gone. I would regret an election campaign that focused on skivers and sending immigrants home," he said.
Kruger's "hug a hoodie" phrase was a defining moment in Cameron's bid to introduce a new, softer kind of Conservatism and decontaminate the Tory brand. Yet Kruger says such noble intentions have been gradually buried by headline-grabbing stunts such as the recent Home Office vans driving through London calling on illegal immigrants to leave.
"What was wrong with the vans was that they were not aimed at the people they claimed to be aimed at, but they were plainly aimed at voters. That was objectionable. They have settled for mere headlines: tough on crime, tough on immigrants, cutting taxes."
He said no genuine attempt had been made to earn from the riots of 2011.
Kruger, now chief executive of the Only Connect creative arts company, which helps prisoners, former criminals and young people at risk of reoffending, said: "Hug a hoodie wasn't just about being kind to young people; it was about punishing them if they crossed the line into offending. The speech was about having a balanced approach, recognising people are responsible for their actions but that we need to show some forgiveness and support, too. David Cameron needs to get back to talking like that."
He said the Ministry of Justice reforms, in particular its reliance on private firms such as G4S, will offer the complete opposite of Cameron's vision of the big society. "We will end up with a cartel of commercial firms operating our justice system if we are not careful, a sad outcome of the big society agenda.
"I'm all for denationalising great state apparatuses, but not by turning them over to three or four huge commercial players.
"My overall feeling is that there is a loss of drive and energy that David Cameron personally had before the last election. He has lost sight of his reforming programme; other agendas have taken hold.
"The way the government has allowed the stupid tendency in the press and backbenches to drive their policy on criminal justice is regrettable and the manufactured fuss about televisions in prison cells is actually cowardice on the part of the government."
Anthony Howard award for young journalists
■ There is still time for aspiring political journalists under the age of 25 to apply for the first Anthony Howard award. The winner will receive £25,000 and undertake internships at the Times, the Observer and the New Statesman from October. Applications close on Saturday 17 August. Details at anthony howardaward.org.uk.