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Last updated: August 16, 2011 12:25 am
David Cameron is being urged to accelerate tax breaks for married couples as part of his moral clean-up of Britain following last week’s riots.
Conservative MPs told Mr Cameron to turn his rhetoric on the importance of strong families to tackle the moral malaise into concrete action. They want to see a timetable to reward marriage in the tax system – currently scheduled for “before 2015”.
“It was in our manifesto and the coalition agreement; the only barrier to it being imposed is the Liberal Democrats,” said Nadine Dorries, MP for mid-Bedfordshire. “We believe that given what happened over the past week our number one priority should be reinforcing family, reinforcing relationships.”
Mark Pritchard, another backbencher, said the government should “ensure marriage is rewarded in the next Budget”, while one minister told the Financial Times that introducing tax breaks was “important symbolically”.
Their demands came as Mr Cameron flashed his Tory credentials with a speech that attacked the “risk-free ground of moral neutrality” and called on a return to core Conservative values of marriage, commitment, discipline and duty to fix a “broken” Britain.
In a message targeted at the Tory grassroots, Mr Cameron said the riots were not caused by poverty but by “people with a twisted moral code”, admitting that ministers had for too long shied away from “what needs to be said” on marriage, welfare and social responsibility.
“Do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations?” he asked. “Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort.”
Mr Cameron offered little in the way of detailed measures to back up his strong oratory beyond already announced policies on welfare reform and further discipline in schools.
But he promised to turn around the lives of 120,000 of Britain’s most troubled families by 2015, declaring: “The broken society is back at the top of my agenda.”
He also said all 16-year-olds would be called on to do National Citizen Service. But the speech was branded as “gimmicky” by Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, as the government admitted that concrete policy proposals and funding streams had yet to be drawn up. “This stuff can’t be set out in 48 hours,” said one Downing Street aide. “But you can see the direction of travel.”
Mr Cameron will chair weekly meetings with cabinet ministers in coming weeks to draw up an agenda and review existing policy.
Government sources played down the prospects of quick action on marriage tax breaks against the backdrop of a choppy economy, as plans were confirmed to remove benefits from those convicted of taking part in riots last week.
Political divisions are emerging over the reasons behind the riots.
Mr Cameron attacked a lack of discipline in schools and a permissive welfare state as triggers contributing to the rise in gang violence and bad behaviour.
Mr Miliband said: “Day by day, the prime minister has revealed himself to be reaching for shallow and superficial answers.”
The Labour leader stressed instead a wider sense of irresponsibility in society, including among bankers, MPs and journalists. “People who talk about the sick behaviour of those without power should talk equally about the sick behaviour of those with power.”
He is still pressing for a public inquiry, with Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, trying to hammer out a deal behind the scenes.
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