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Whisper who dares, but could the Conservative party have elected a social democrat as its leader? Has the party that famously coined the expression, ‘if it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working’ suddenly donned the mantle of Willy Brandt and Bill Clinton?

David Cameron, if we’re to believe the hype, has more in common with Gandhi than Norman Tebbit. He’ll cry ‘social justice’ faster than a retired colonel can order a pink gin. He’s the supporter of social entrepreneurs and saviour of the voluntary sector.

His first act, in setting up policy groups to scrutinise key national issues, was smart: it means he doesn’t really have to show his hand. In the meantime he can tour the nation to the same acclaim that donkeys show the holders of carrots.

But beware of those who sound off about social justice without explaining exactly what they mean. Social justice is motherhood and apple pie: but there are mothers who beat their kids, and apple pies you’d gag on.

Did you know there’s a Social Justice Party? Its manifesto includes abolishing social facilities in prison, forcing benefit claimants to work, and legalising drugs. Possibly not what Mr Cameron has in mind.

Mr Cameron wants ‘serious, long-term thinking’ about Britain’s social problems (has everyone forgotten the Social Exclusion Unit’s policy action teams?) and ‘practical ideas to empower the least well-off to climb the ladder from poverty to wealth’ (has nobody been doing any work on this lately?).

Social justice isn’t simply the art of making pious pronouncements about the troubles of the worst-off. It’s recognising why they are worse off: and you can’t do that without talking about the economy.

All mainstream parties are hooked up to an economic philosophy where the winners are those with the greatest competitive advantage. You can’t divorce your approach to the losers from hard decisions about how you distribute the winnings.

Traditionally, Tories have believed winners have the right to enjoy the fruits of their labour. But if they’re serious, in a market economy, about social justice - eliminating poverty and disadvantage - then they must manage the market accordingly. Ultimately, no government can escape choices about revenue. If we aren’t prepared to raise it, we can’t spend it.

Julian Dobson, editor

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