Westminster council has often performed the role of vanguard experiment lab for Tory governments. It is doing so once more as it brings forward plans to remove rough sleepers from the streets.
There is nothing automatically wrong with that objective. We shared it when in government, and made considerable progress towards it. But Westminster’s motives are more concerned with the image of their beloved borough than they are with helping some of the most vulnerable people in Britain.
So fines will be introduced for people who ‘lie down or sleep’ in a public place. Bedding cannot be left anywhere. And those who give out food and drink to rough sleepers can likewise be fined. This means an end to the charity soup runs.
It is also but the latest example of the cannibalistic inconsistency at the heart of David Cameron’s Tory government. On the one hand, he ‘believes’ in ‘the Big Society’. On the other, his entire economic strategy is based on a programme of cuts which will increase dependency on state and charity, and yet diminish the support both can provide.
As he bathes in the warm glow of praise re Libya, as his chancellor George Osborne reads a paeon of praise in the FT magazine today, and as both prepare for the Budget, I hope someone asks them how Westminster’s action fits with the strategies they are pursuing. Neither will admit it, but the truth is that it fits perfectly.