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25 February 2010

The truth about IDS, the Tories and “social justice”

Jonathan Derbyshire's interview exposes the contradiction at the heart of Westminster's favourite ps

By James Macintyre

Jonathan Derbyshire, the New Statesman‘s culture editor, is a sympathetic interviewer and an intricate writer. So it is only in the subtlest and least aggressive way possible that he pulls apart the threads of the Conservative Party’s supposed commitment to “social justice” today, in an interview with Iain Duncan Smith for this week’s Tory special issue.

The piece will not be online until tomorrow, so I’ll just give you a taste of the interview with a man who is seen as some kind of Prodigal Son in Westminster inside and outside the Tory party, but who in fact runs a “social justice” institute whose overriding purpose is to advocate traditional family values on council estates. This same institute opposes any kind of redistribution of wealth as the answer to how to reduce poverty, about which the Tories now claim to care.

Not only does this approach — and IDS is highly influential with the party’s leadership, despite his own disastrous stint in the top job — make a mockery of the fraudulent Tory concept of “social justice”, but IDS’s self-proclaimed “social conservatism” is at odds with the pro-gay, anything-goes, modish front bench that claims to have “modernised” simply because it is “socially liberal”.

It is a measure of how little the Conservative Party is understood, let alone scrutinised, by the mainstream media that these contradictions are never brought out.

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Until now.

Here is Derbyshire:

The CSJ [“Centre for Social Justice”] was launched with a paper written by Duncan Smith entitled Britain’s Conservative Majority, in which he came to much the same conclusion. “The marriage of socially conservative views with a commitment to social justice,” he wrote, “is . . . the most intellectually interesting characteristic of Britain’s conservative majority.” He urged Conservative politicians to engage voters’ deeply held moral and religious convictions, rather than setting them to one side in the name of pluralism or, indeed, modernisation.

Later, enter stage right Tim Montgomerie, of the right-wing ConservativeHome website (disclaimer: Montgomerie has called for me to be sacked from the New Statesman):

What of Montgomerie’s point that Duncan Smith’s combination of religiously flavoured social conservatism and a belief in “social justice” is at odds with the Cameroonian version of “progressive Conservatism”? “I haven’t really got any thoughts on that,” [Montgomerie] says. “Though, from the Conservative Party’s standpoint, they would have to make adjustments about what they’re about, and tolerance has always got to be part of that.”

And here is Derbyshire’s pièce de résistance:

But if “social justice” is not primarily a redistributive notion, what is it? Here, Duncan Smith’s response is startlingly muddled: “I mean to improve the quality of people’s lives, which gives people the opportunity to improve their lives. In other words, so people’s quality of life is improved.”

Buy the magazine at most good newsagents. The interview is of course much fuller and more nuanced than my own take on it.