Cameron's latest speech raises issues that Conservatives should not raise. He says:
It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money, and it's time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB - general well-being....We have to care about working life, and we have to show that politics can make a positive difference....Our goal is clear: to move beyond a belief in the Protestant work ethic alone to a modern vision of ethical work.
So far, he's preaching to the choir. I reckon my preference for fulfilling over remunerative work has cost me around a quarter of a million quid over the last 10 years.
The problem is that the policies required to create fulfilling, ethical work that promotes well-being must be revolutionary, not Conservative.
For example, Cameron says:
I want a Conservative government to work towards an ambitious goal - to make the British public sector the world leader in progressive employment practice.
He's got his work cut out here. Current public sector employment practices kill people - and if you kill people, they lose an important part of their well-being. The "Whitehall studies" of civil servants health say:
The more senior you are in the employment hierarchy, the longer you might expect to live compared to people in lower employment grades...The way work is organized, the work climate...all contribute to the social gradient in health.
Genuinely progressive employment practice would, surely, have to dismantle the employment hierarchy that contributes to unequal longevity. Strangely, though, Cameron doesn't mention this.
Cameron also says:
I believe that employee share ownership is good for companies and good for society. It creates a common bond between employees and aligns them with the interests of the company.
True. So why not follow John Stuart Mill's call 150 years ago, and have an "indefinite increase" in employee share ownership, to the point where external shareholders are redundant? After all, Cameron cites approvingly (and rightly) the example of the John Lewis partnership.
There's something else Cameron doesn't say. He wants to increase fulfilling work without increased government regulation. Good. An obvious way to do this is to increase workers' bargaining power - say through a citizens' basic income - so they can choose to reject unsatisfying work or long hours. I could choose fulfilling work over City tedium because I have the economic power to do so. But Cameron never mentions this possibility.
So what does he say? This:
I believe that there is a role for politicians in using exhortation, rather than regulation, to talk up good practice and draw attention to bad practice.
Despite his protestations to the contrary, this is mere wind.
But this is inevitable. The fact is that, if you want fulfilling work and well-being, you've got to attack hieararchy and inequality. And Conservatives can't do that.