Speech to Google Zeitgeist Europe 2006, Hertfordshire
"It's such a pleasure to be with you here today. And an honour to be speaking amongst such distinguished company. Gathered here at this fantastic event are many of the best minds and brightest talents in Europe.
Leaders in business, technology and the media. But whatever our backgrounds, and wherever we've come from, we're all here because we're interested in the same thing.
And how we can better understand what the future may bring, in order to help bring about a better future. Our hosts are certainly playing a part in that.
What Google has achieved is truly amazing. You've created not just a world-beating business and a world-famous brand in record time. You've accomplished something far deeper, and more important. You've begun the process of democratising the world's information.
Democratising is the right word to use because by making more information available to more people, you're giving them more power.
The power to get the best deal. The power to learn.
And above all, the power for anyone to hold to account those who in the past might have had a monopoly of power - whether it's government, big business, or the traditional media.
Of course the other amazing thing you've achieved is to turn your brand name into a verb.
The other day in an interview I was asked if I'd ever googled myself.
Not wishing to look like a vain egomaniac - not that anyone might think of a politician in those terms - I said that I had, just the once.
Well I can exclusively reveal today that I've had another go.
In fact, I had a look at Google Trends, a fascinating new feature that can tell you what the world has been searching the internet for, and when.
Now I've been taking some comfort in the past couple of weeks from the fact that according to our most recent local elections, the popularity of my party seems to be on the rise.
But I'm afraid that according to Google Trends, my popularity as a search term peaked on December the 6th last year - the day I became Conservative leader.
And it's been pretty much downhill all the way since then.
But on behalf of all politicians, whatever party we represent, I'm delighted to welcome you all to Britain.
We're incredibly proud that Google has chosen to hold this important conference here, and I'm sure that the next two days will be great fun and hugely stimulating.
Today I want to do a number of things. I want to set out a new political agenda.
One that focuses not on the politics of partisan point-scoring or the traditional neat boxes of government department but on real life as it's lived.
In a series of speeches over the next few weeks, I want to look at the things that matter most in most people's lives.
Working life. Family life.
And what we might describe as Community life - neighbours, surroundings, local institutions.
I want to explain how I think this new political agenda fits with the spirit of our times - the zeitgeist, you might say and in particular why I think that the ideas of the political tradition that I represent, the centre right, provide the best hope of fulfilling the aspirations of our age.
But I want to concentrate today on the world of work, and its future. What people want from work and what society should expect from it.
What this means for government, business and individuals. And what we all need to do to make sure that we capture the benefits of the changing world of work, and avoid its pitfalls.
Just as California seems to have mastered the best way of connecting science with enterprise.
And the Netherlands has mastered the best way of providing decentralised energy.
How can we in Britain master the challenge of providing people with work that adds not just to the quantity of money in their pockets, but the quality of their lives?
We have to start by changing the way we think and talk about politics.
Too often in politics today, we behave as if the only thing that matters is the insider stuff that we politicians love to argue about - economic growth, budget deficits and GDP.
GDP. Gross Domestic Product.
Yes it's vital. It measures the wealth of our society.
But it hardly tells the whole story.
Wealth is about so much more than pounds, or euros or dollars can ever measure.
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.
Well-being can't be measured by money or traded in markets.
It can't be required by law or delivered by government.
It's about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture, and above all the strength of our relationships.
Improving our society's sense of well-being is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times.
It's a challenge foreshadowed by one of Britain's most famous economists - though not someone whose work I usually agree with.
Writing in 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that by now, society would have "solved its economic problem" - that is, worked out how to create permanently rising standards of living.
In his essay, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, he argued:
"For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem - how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well."
Now I'm not pretending for a second that everything in the economic garden is rosy, and that we can just sit back and relax.
As we all know, poverty still disfigures too many communities, both within rich developed countries, and on a vast scale in the developing world.
It is our moral duty to do all in our power to eliminate it, and we have much work still to do.
We also know that no country can take prosperity for granted.
In an ever-more competitive world, we have to be constantly vigilant in the battle to secure investment, create jobs, and spread opportunity.
But we should also acknowledge a vital truth that the pursuit of wealth is no longer - if it ever was - enough to meet people's deepest hopes and aspirations.
I think it's increasingly clear that the spirit of the age demands social values as well as economic value.
The purpose of this conference is to put the zeitgeist under the spotlight.
Well if there's one thing that, for me, captures the zeitgeist today, it's the desire for capitalism with commitment.
We hear a lot about the bracing winds of globalisation - footloose capital, buccaneering business, accelerating change.
And we are often told that we have to embrace the change, not resist it.
But that's too simplistic.
On one level, of course we have to be comfortable with change. But on another level, the human level, we have to remember what makes people happy, as well as what makes stock markets rise.
What makes us happy, above all, is a sense of belonging - strong relationships with friends, family and the immediate world around us.
That's about permanence, not change. It's about the personal, not the commercial.
The most exciting and successful new businesses, the ones that capture the spirit of the age, totally understand this.
You only have to look at their culture - how they think of themselves, their place in the world and their role in society.
Look at craigslist, which talks about "restoring the human voice to the Internet, in a humane, non-commercial environment", and the importance of "a sense of trust".
Look at innocent drinks, whose mission is "to make it easy for people to do themselves some good" and who believe that the capitalist system "could actually become the solution as we…show the marketing directors of the world there is profit…in doing the right thing, in protecting what's good and in saving the world."
Or look at the latest catalogue of howies, a young clothing brand based in Wales.
It's not just about T-shirts and jeans, it's about a lifestyle and attitude that celebrates hope, and hopes that through the power of ethical consumerism, business can change the world for the better.
All these companies and many more besides are expressing a profound dissatisfaction with rootless, rampaging globalisation and a passionate desire for capitalism with commitment, for work that has meaning and for relationships that are about more than just money and markets.
But don't assume that it's just small, niche businesses that care about this kind of capitalism. Nor that they are the only type of business that can do something about it.
We see it right across the spectrum.
Car manufacturers racing to produce more environmentally-friendly models.
British high street banks eager to show that they're still actually on the high street, with real people, not distant call centres, providing customer service.
And supermarkets in this country doing more to promote local products and British food with high environmental and welfare standards.
What does this mean for one of the biggest influences on our well-being, our working life?
I think there are a number of forces driving a desire for dramatic change.
The first is the growing tension between two very different sources of human satisfaction.
On the one hand we want to be heroic individuals, making our own way in the world and shaping our own fate.
One of the ways we express ourselves is when we exercise our sovereign power of choice.
These aspirations are expressed by politicians - especially Conservative ones - in the language of opportunity, mobility and freedom
This belief in freedom and mobility generates the pace and the excitement of much of modern working life.
And when we Conservatives reformed Britain's economy in the 1980s it was this kind of picture of a modern society that we appealed to.
But there is a second very different aspiration too.
We know there is a deep satisfaction which comes from belonging to someone and to some place. There comes a point when you can't keep on choosing, you have to commit.
If so much of our modern globalised consumer culture ultimately seems unsatisfying then it is because it fails to satisfy this deep human need.
We all wrestle with the tension between these two very different sources of human happiness.
And when it comes to work, the conventional wisdom is very clear.
It has been most powerfully expressed by Charles Handy who famously put into circulation the idea that the days of jobs for life are over and that we will all have portfolio lives and portfolio careers.
Politicians must have delivered hundreds of speeches with such clichés.
This will not be another one because I do not believe the conventional wisdom.
The evidence does not really bear it out.
As Robert Taylor put it in a report on Britain's world of work for the Economic and Social Research Council:
"The evidence simply does not sustain the view that we are witnessing the emergence of a new kind of employment relations seen in the end of the career and the death of the permanent job for life."
It does look as if there may have been a modest fall in the average length of time for which a man holds a specific job.
But this is more than offset by an increase in the average length of time for which a woman holds her job.
In fact if we did not approach so much of economic change through the eyes of a man we would surely be saying how significant it is that women now have longer and more stable job tenure than ever before.
Of course, we do see a lot of job mobility amongst people in their twenties.
Young people change jobs more than older people - and they also change jobs more frequently than young people used to.
But over half of all job changes occur before the age of thirty.
It looks as if what is happening is that we are spending longer making a choice, but when we find a job that really satisfies us, there are really strong rewards to commitment.
Your employer invests in raising your skills.
You build up tacit knowledge - what they can't teach you at Harvard Business school, knowledge you cannot capture in a diploma and may not even be able to write down.
In fact much of your real job contract could not really be written down.
It has increasingly become a relationship based on trust.
And that has major implications for business, for individuals and for government.
The second big factor shaping the world of work is the increasing feminisation of the workplace.
Some people think it's 'modern' to respect a woman's choice about whether to work or not after having children.
But that's an old debate.
The reality today is that most mothers don't have a choice about whether to work or not - they have to work in order to help pay the mortgage and maintain the lifestyle they want for their family.
And if the biggest change in the workplace over the past twenty five years has been the increase in the number of women working the third powerful force driving change is demographic too.
Over the next twenty five years, the biggest workplace change we can expect is the increase in the number of over-50s in employment.
The British Government is this week publishing its White Paper on pensions, and we agree with the broad direction of its proposals.
They recognise that people will want and need to work longer, and that our pension arrangements must reflect that.
But there's one curiosity: surely we should also be investing in the skills of the over-50s - particularly older women to enable them to participate in the labour market on their terms?
At the moment, the training and further education budget in this country is firmly skewed towards the under-25s, and that is something that we believe ought to change.
The fourth powerful force driving change in the workplace is change in the type of work that we tend to do.
More and more people work in what is described as the knowledge economy.
Increasingly, it's in the high-skill, high-value knowledge sector that developed economies should be seeking to compete.
But knowledge work is very different from the traditional nine-to-five - and knowledge workers have very different expectations of what an employer should provide.
These powerful forces are combining to create a new challenge for employers:
to provide opportunities that balance work with the personal relationships and the personal values that actually make us happy.
I believe that a new political agenda with well-being, as well as wealth creation, as its aim must find ways to address these challenges.
There are some on the right who might say that this has got nothing to do with politics - that we should leave it all to the market and not interfere.
But what kind of politics is it that has nothing to say about such a central aspect of people's lives?
And how can we hope to address issues like education, crime, anti-social behaviour, poverty and health when so much evidence points to the crucial role of relationships - especially relationships between parents and their children - in shaping these things?
We have to care about working life, and we have to show that politics can make a positive difference.
My aim is to show how Conservative instincts and Conservative values provide the right solutions.
Our goal is clear: to move beyond a belief in the Protestant work ethic alone to a modern vision of ethical work.
On Friday, thanks to the Work Foundation, Britain's leading employment think-tank, I saw for myself what can be achieved.
The Work Foundation had gathered together businesses at the cutting edge of progressive employment practice, in both private and public sectors, to tell their story.
And the story was pretty much the same in every case.
Flexible working and an understanding of the need for trusting relationships is good for business and good for individual employees.
Companies are competing more and more to be good employers, to attract and retain the best talent. It saves money and it increases productivity.
At BT, flexible working policies reduced absenteeism to 3.1%, compared to a national average of 8.5%.
Their home working policies have resulted in a 31% increase in productivity, with savings of £69 million each year from reduced accommodation and overhead costs.
And 99% of women return after maternity leave, compared to a national average of 47%.
Lloyds TSB has introduced the right for every employee to work flexibly - whether through compressed hours, reduced hours, flexitime or home working and in requesting flexible working arrangements, employees don't have to justify why they want to do it.
The construction company AMEC found that its flexible working pilots led to marked improvements in job satisfaction and productivity.
And a high-tech manufacturing company in my parliamentary constituency has introduced almost totally flexible hours, with employees able to work their 38 hour week when they want.
On Friday I went to an ASDA supermarket in south London to hear about the company's wide range of family-friendly policies, including:
• Child care leave, enabling parents to stop work during the summer holidays, returning later with continuous service and maintained benefits.
• Grandparents' leave so that on the birth of a grandchild, grandparents can help out with childcare.
• Job sharing to help managers balance home and work life.
ASDA's flexible working policies have helped make them the largest employer of over-50s in our country and they told me that they were 100% convinced that their employment practices give them a competitive advantage, reducing staff turnover to well below the average for their sector.
For other companies, like BT and Lloyds TSB, technology - particularly broadband internet connections - is now a huge driver of homeworking.
And even in some parts of our public sector, employers are creating opportunities for parents to have term-time jobs so they can be with their children in the school holidays.
These and other employers are showing how it's possible to combine organisational success with a culture that values human relationships and contributes to individual well-being.
The question is: how can we turn today's best practice into tomorrow's everyday experience for everyone?
This is where I believe we need the right political response.
The traditional response of the right - that government can't do much about all this and shouldn't try - is inadequate.
But equally, the response of the new left - that government should regulate the specific details of working life - is ineffective.
It produces unintended consequences that can end up damaging our competitiveness.
And regulation ends up treating all companies the same whereas different businesses of different sizes, in different sectors, will have significantly different circumstances.
They should be encouraged to freely develop their own responses, tailored to their particular situation, rather than having specific measures imposed upon them.
This applies in particular, of course, to small and medium-sized enterprises.
As Will Hutton, Chief Executive of the Work Foundation, told me on Friday, it's vital that in this area we trust people and that they are trustworthy.
Time and again, employers told me that government should not regulate flexible working and that if it had to, it should keep it simple.
The easy certainties of passing a new law or a new regulation do not translate into the right outcomes once they meet the complexity of the real world.
As Unilever explained, passing a regulation or creating a policy doesn't in itself mean that anything will happen.
BT found that adopting a policy on flexible working was not nearly enough.
In order for it to be taken up in the workplace, an internal culture change programme was required, explicitly promoting flexible working to male employees who were embarrassed about, in their words, "coming out" as dads.
As one employer put it, the right way to bring about change is to do it "informally, flexibly and locally."
Rules, processes and systems imposed from above will not only fail to deliver the right outcomes, they end up undermining the personal relationships that we should be aiming to strengthen.
In too many areas of life today, over-regulation is leading to the death of discretion, the replacement of trust with coercion.
So if regulation is not the answer, what is?
I couldn't put it better than the words of one of the employers I met on Friday who said that what is needed to take this agenda forward is "education, sponsorship, exhortation, cultural change and leadership."
This approach, in tune with our instinctive Conservative values, provides a clear policy agenda on working life for the centre-right.
This agenda has three components.
First, we must recognise the importance of leadership.
In some areas, Government can try to set the standard for others to follow by becoming a role model.
In the UK today, over one in five people in work is employed by the public sector. While there are certainly examples of great workplace cultures in the public sector, the reality for too many public sector workers is sadly the opposite.
I want a Conservative government to work towards an ambitious goal - to make the British public sector the world leader in progressive employment practice.
We need to do this at the same time as showing - clearly and unambiguously - that these practices are raising productivity and improving outputs for the people who use - and through their taxes, pay for, public services.
Second, we should use the power of our public platform as politicians to be advocates for progress, to put these issues on the agenda and to bring about a change in national culture.
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.
I've already annoyed a number of companies by pointing out failures of corporate responsibility.
It's not done from a desire to pick a fight with business.
But I think it's right to say what you think when you see something that's wrong.
Advocacy is not a wishy-washy cop-out as some would argue.
It strikes the right balance and avoids the pitfalls of over-prescriptive government intervention.
Some will say that simply talking about changing culture is nebulous.
But let's be honest - who has done more for school food: countless government initiatives, or Jamie Oliver?
Some will say that relying on business leadership is passing the buck.
But ask what has had more effect on working life - the innovation of companies like Lloyds TSB, moving way ahead of government legislation or a box-ticking, lowest common denominator, one-size-fits-all piece of regulation?
It's vital to create a space in the national conversation which stands firmly between regulation and indifference.
Why should we choose between the intolerant impulse to right every supposed wrong by passing new laws and the coldly amoral refusal even to take a view on the actions of others?
As the philosopher Edmund Burke wrote as long ago as 1795, politicians "ought to know… what belongs to laws, and what manners alone can regulate. To these, great politicians may give a leaning, but they cannot give a law."
The third component of a modern Conservative agenda on working life is less about what government should do and more about what government should not do.
Let me give you two specific examples.
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.
Perhaps the best known example in Britain is the John Lewis retail chain.
Every study of that venerable company demonstrates higher than average levels of satisfaction amongst its workforce. And yet, despite all its clear benefits, businesses tell me that employee share ownership is becoming less, not more attractive.
That is a position we must reverse.
The second specific example relates to the tax treatment of personal computers. Many of us use our office computers for personal activities. We book holidays, check on football scores and email friends and relatives.
Yet, it was recently announced that personal use of a company computer may be classed a 'taxable benefit'.
This will affect workers who have a company laptop in their homes...and it will increase red tape for business. This is surely the wrong way to go. We ought to be encouraging people to work from home if it suits them.
These three elements of a modern Conservative agenda for improving working life.
Leading by example in public sector employment.
Favouring exhortation over regulation - in Burke's phrase, giving a leaning not a law and avoiding harmful interventions illustrate a deeper truth about how we will address the new political agenda I have outlined today.
Improving the well-being of our country - whether in terms of working life, family life or community life - is not a simple, mechanical task.
It is not possible to bring about lasting improvement to people's well-being simply through the instinctive responses of the left - regulation and legislation.
Instead of a mechanical approach, we need an organic one.
One that understands the complexity of human relations, and trusts in the power and importance of human relationships.
For us, the achievement of our political agenda will come not from redefining the relationship between the individual and the state, as the left seeks to do.
Our aim is to renew and revitalise the relationship between the individual and society.
We believe that there is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state.
We believe in trusting people and in sharing responsibility.
And in a world of often bewildering change.
Where globalisation, despite its massive economic benefits, is often viewed with suspicion and fear.
Where the consumer society, despite its undoubted contribution to personal fulfilment, threatens to undermine the values we hold most dear.
And where people everywhere are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives.
I believe that our values offer the best hope of meeting the aspirations of our times, in tune with the zeitgeist of the age."