David Cameron's new world order

Security, cyberattacks and an end to the sofa of spin

David Cameron stood in front of a vast map of the world at Chatham House this morning. And in his new vision, he will be at the centre of it. The Tory leader outlined plans to set up a National Security Council, lopping bits off the MoD, Foreign Office and DfFID budgets to create a joint, "joined-up" approach that would include a "war cabinet" for Afghanistan.

There was a fair amount of policy (and he had Liam Fox, Pauline Neville-Jones and Chris Grayling lined up to boost him on that front), but there was a lot of politics, too. Of particular concern appeared to be the furniture of government:

We will end the culture of spin by making sure that decisions about national security are taken formally, not on the sofa, but round a table, and with all the right people sitting round the table.

Cameron, clearly enamoured by the table, made a series of unsubtle if timely digs at New Labour foreign policy, particularly on Iraq, after Alastair Campbell's appearance at the Iraq inquiry this week.

If you hire responsible people, people you really trust, who want to lift politics up, not stoop down to its lowest level, then you have your best guarantee against dodgy dossiers.

Strangely mimicking the language of Sarah Palin, he also referred repeatedly to the loss of "trust" in the "system", and promised a higher style of politics, a commitment to planning to avoid catastrophes such as the aftermath of Iraq, and a respect for the institutions of government. But his key point, about the "joined-up" approach, will be ruinous for most organisations working to promote development. As Oxfam said in a statement released shortly after the event:

Removing aid from the poorest people and using it for military goals rather than tackling poverty would be a big step backwards and would undermine the UK's leadership role on international development.

Cameron can expect a fight from NGOs if he tries to push all the government's development efforts into mopping up after costly wars. He promised to maintain a 0.7 per cent share of gross national income for development spending. But, as Oxfam's response shows, if this simply means taking funds away from current development projects to support his security strategy, it will be deeply unpopular.

The Tory leader did a speed tour round his other priorities -- cybersecurity, civil liberties and social cohesion. But he didn't stick around. After responding vaguely to questions about Conservative engagement with the EU and the future of the Met (and usually deferring to Neville-Jones or Fox), Cameron departed to address the Women's Institute in Chipping Norton. You're late for the Women's Institute "at your peril", he quipped, to much mirth from the gathered suits.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

David Cameron’s starter homes: poor policy, but good politics

David Cameron's electoral coalition of buy-to-let retirees and dual-earner couples remains intact: for now.

The only working age demographic to do better under the Coalition was dual-earner couples – without children. They were the main beneficiaries of the threshold raise – which may “take the poorest out of tax” in theory but in practice hands a sizeable tax cut to peope earning above average. They will reap the fruits of the government’s Help to Buy ISAs. And, not having children, they were insulated from cuts to child tax credits, reductions in public services, and the rising cost of childcare. (Childcare costs now mean a couple on average income, working full-time, find that the extra earnings from both remaining in work are wiped out by the costs of care)

And they were a vital part of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition. Voters who lived in new housing estates on the edges of seats like Amber Valley and throughout the Midlands overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives.

That’s the political backdrop to David Cameron’s announcement later today to change planning to unlock new housing units – what the government dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up to £250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it, while reducing the ability of councils to insist on certain types of buildings. He’ll describe it as part of the drive to make the next ten years “the turnaround decade”: years in which people will feel more in control of their lives, more affluent, and more successful.

The end result: a proliferation of one and two bedroom flats and homes, available to the highly-paid: and to that vital component of Cameron’s coalition: the dual-earner, childless couple, particularly in the Midlands, where the housing market is not yet in a state of crisis. (And it's not bad for that other pillar of the Conservative majority: well-heeled pensioners using buy-to-let as a pension plan.)

The policy may well be junk-rated but the politics has a triple A rating: along with affluent retirees, if the Conservatives can keep those dual-earner couples in the Tory column, they will remain in office for the forseeable future.

Just one problem, really: what happens if they decide they want room for kids? Cameron’s “turnaround decade” might end up in entirely the wrong sort of turnaround for Conservative prospects.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.