David Cameron spoke to Demos today at the launch of our new Character Inquiry. As I write in an article for today’s Telegraph, he is worried that "the character of our society – and indeed the character of some people themselves, as actors in society, is changing".
At the heart of Cameron's political philosophy are the conjoined ideas of social responsibility and commitment. But the "big society" which he optimistically hopes can replace the "big state" is one which has to be composed of big people – people who are willing both to discipline themselves and to sacrifice some of their own interests for those of others. In other words, people of character.
Cameron's hope of a society in which institutions and people take more responsibility for others also rests on the prevalence of character traits such as empathy, compassion and kindness. These cannot be legislated for, of course – although laws might sometimes get in the way. If people can be sued for clearing the snow off the pavements outside their house, for example, something has gone wrong.
So far, Cameron has shown grit in facing down critics within his own party, and a natural instinct to work with others. He is sufficiently confident of his own abilities to allow others to flourish around him. He has put character at the centre of social policy for the next year at least. Does Cameron have the character to face the unrelenting pressure and awesome responsibility of No 10? Only time will tell.