Prime Minister Cameron’s Prime Remarks
Whatever you may have thought about British Prime Minister David Cameron in the past, or whatever you may think about him these days with Britain leaving the European Union and his own upcoming departure from 10 Downing Street, I recommend to you a speech he gave before Parliament this past January on “life chances.”
If only American political leaders would choose to speak similarly more often.
My friend and colleague Steve Young, who was American Experiment’s founding chair, and who currently leads the internationally engaged Caux Round Table, suggested I read Prime Minister’s longish speech not long after he made it. It took me half-year, but I finally got to it a few days ago and very profitably so. Here are a few excerpts.
In regards to poverty, the leader of Britain’s Conservative Party said things like these:
I believe the free market has been, by far, the best tool ever invented for generating prosperity and improving living standards.
And actually applying its principles of more choice and competition to our public services has, I believe, helped the most disadvantaged.
But some people get left behind, even as the market transforms our economy and the rest of society with it.
They haven’t been equipped to make the most of the opportunities presented to them – and a chasm exists between them, and those who have been able to take advantage.
Now I believe in self-reliance and personal responsibility – I think that’s absolutely correct.
But we have to recognize that this alone is not enough – so if we want to transform life chances – we’ve got to go much deeper.
A moment later he adds:
Talk to a single mum on a poverty-stricken estate: someone who suffers from chronic depression, someone who perhaps drinks all day to numb the pain of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.
Tell her that because her benefits have risen by a couple of pounds a week, she and her children have been magically lifted out of poverty.
On the other hand, if you told her about the great opportunities created by our market economy, I expect she’ll ask you what planet you’re actually on. . . .
[I]t’s right that we move away from looking simply at income-based poverty measures and develop more sophisticated social indicators to measure success.
The Prime Minister continued on to families.
Children in families that break apart are more than twice as likely to experience poverty as those whose families stay together.
That’s why strengthening families is at the heart of our agenda.
We’ve significantly increased the help we offer on childcare, introduced shared parental leave so families can be there for one another at the most stressful time – the birth of a child.
We’ve backed marriage in the tax system and 160,000 couples have taken up the preventative relationship support we have funded over the last 5 years.
And I can announce today that we will double our investment in this Parliament, with an extra 35 million [pounds] to cover even more relationship support.
A few minutes later he says:
So I believe if we are going to extend life chances in our country, it’s time to begin talking properly about parenting and babies and reinforcing what a huge choice having a child is in the first place, as well as what a big responsibility parents face in getting these early years right.
Of course, that must begin by helping those most in need.
That’s why I’ve made it such a priority to speed up the adoption process and improve child protection and social services.
I think these will be landmark reforms of the next 5 years.
And several minutes after that, Mr. Cameron argues this about education:
Character – persistence – is core to success.
As Carol Dweck has shown in her work at Stanford, no matter how clever you are if you do not believe in continued hard work and concentration, and if you do not believe that you can return from failure you will not fulfill your potential.
It is what the Tiger Mother’s battle hymn is all about: work, try hard, believe you can succeed, get up and try again.
It is if you like, the precise opposite of an “all must have prizes” culture that permeated our schools under the last government.
Put simply: children thrive on high expectations: it is how they grow in school and beyond.
As teased above and found elsewhere in his speech, Prime Minister Cameron supports programs that many American conservatives, judiciously or not, would view as insufficiently conservative, or too expensive, or fundamentally the responsibility of the 50 states, not the federal government. Across the aisle, it’s hard to imagine American liberals standing or sitting still for any tax reform designed to help married parents in particular.
So why do I resonate to the speech so well?
I’m a sucker for almost any politician who understands that while a strong economy is vital, a broken culture can be even more determinative, destructively so – and has the fortitude to talk about it publicly.
Likewise, I like speeches that sound more human than wonky, even when topics lend themselves to wonkishness.
And I like speeches by powerful world leaders that have a touch and grasp like this:
The final part of our plan must be to get the right treatment and support to those who are in crisis.
Some people with mental health problems today are almost guaranteed a life in poverty.
And the number of people who suffer from poor mental health is larger than you may think.
One of 5 new mothers develop a mental health problem around the time of the birth of their child.
Up to one in 4 of us will have a problem – perhaps a form of depression or anxiety – this year alone.
There is the terrible fact that suicide has become the leading cause of death for men under 50.
And the challenge is that, all too often, people are just left to get to crisis point either because the health service simply can’t cope, or because they’re worried about admitting to having a problem in the first place.
We have to get this right.
Mental illness isn’t contagious.
There’s nothing to be frightened of.
As a country, we need to be far more mature about this.
Less hushed tones, less whispering; more frank and open discussion.
We need to take away that shame, that embarrassment, let people know that they’re not in this alone, that when the clouds descend, they don’t have to suffer silently.
Mitch Pearlstein is Founder and American Experiment Senior Fellow.