Latest Channel 4 News:
Row over Malaysian state's coins
'Four shot at abandoned mine shaft'
Rain fails to stop Moscow wildfires
Cancer blow for identical twins
Need for Afghan progress 'signs'

FactCheck: partly broken society?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 29 September 2008

'Our broken society' is one of the totemic phrases of David Cameron's Conservatives, but how big a break does he imply?

The claim

"I've always said the same thing, which is that parts of our society are badly broken."
David Cameron, Conservative Party leader, Andrew Marr Show, BBC 1, 28 September 2008

The background

"Mend our broken society" is one of the Conservative Party's new mantras, and has become a favourite phrase of David Cameron and his senior colleagues. Well, except one.

"If you believe the politicians, we have a broken society, in which the courage and morals of young people have been sapped by welfarism and political correctness," wrote Boris Johnson in his Daily Telegraph column in August. "And if you look at what is happening at the Beijing Olympics, you can see what piffle that is."

It was a departure from the script for the Conservative London Mayor, and cropped up in David Cameron's interview with Andrew Marr at the start of this year's Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

When challenged on his use of the phrase by Marr, Cameron seemed to back-track slightly by saying "parts of our society are badly broken".

"Perhaps that's where the misunderstanding happened," Marr suggests. "You're not saying that Britain is a society is broken?"

"I've always said the same thing," Cameron replied "which is that parts of our society are badly broken."

The analysis

A quick search of David Cameron's speeches on the Conservative Party website reveals 30 instances of the party leader using the phrase "broken society" in 14 speeches since he took over at the helm.

It first cropped up in David Cameron's first speech after being elected as the party leader. "We can mend our broken society," he said on 6 December 2005.

The phrase then took a back seat until 16 February 2007 when he visited a youth organisation in his constituency of Witney. He told his audience "I do know that if we are to rebuild our broken society we have to get the foundation right."

The phrase then made regular speech appearances, with its biggest exposure in a speech to launch the Conservative's by-election campaign in Glasgow East in July, where he referred to "broken society" a total of nine times.

Even a few hours after the interview with Marr, Cameron told his Party's conference "let us show them how we're going to repair our broken society after the decade of failed education reform, failed welfare reform and violent crime."

All but two of the references describe "our broken society" - the exceptions being when Cameron refers to the Glasgow East by-election as "the broken society by-election", and once in July 2007 when he said "You cannot men a broken society with the clunking fist of state control."

While these references do not suggest the Conservative leader believes Britain's society is all bad, the balance is rarely spelt out.

As Andrew Marr said: "There's a huge difference saying there are parts of the Birmingham area where there are real problems and those could be described as 'broken societies', on the one hand, and saying Britain has 'a broken society' on the other."

Cameron's response was: "Well I think everybody knows what I'm talking about."

The verdict

David Cameron's assertion that he has always said "parts of our society are badly broken" may not be quite as accurate as he would like to believe.

He may assume that the public will read between the lines of his speeches to see that he means "parts" rather than all of society is broken, but he rarely makes the distinction explicit in his set speeches.

Yes, many people may feel they know what he means, but if not they could be seen as perpetuating the idea that all of society is bad.

FactCheck rating: 4

How ratings work

Every time a FactCheck article is published we'll give it a rating from zero to five.

The lower end of the scale indicates that the claim in question largerly checks out, while the upper end of the scale suggests misrepresentation, exaggeration, a massaging of statistics and/or language.

In the unlikely event that we award a 5 out of 5, our factcheckers have concluded that the claim under examination has absolutely no basis in fact.

The sources

David Cameron interview, Andrew Marr Show, BBC 1, 28 Sep 2008
Transcripts of David Cameron's speeches, Conservative Party website

Your views

You've read the article, now have your say. We want to know your experiences and your views. We also want to know if there are any claims you want given the FactCheck treatment.


FactCheck will correct significant errors in a timely manner. Readers should direct their enquiries to the editor at the email address above.

Send this article by email

More on this story

Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Watch the Latest Channel 4 News

Watch Channel 4 News when you want

Latest Domestic politics news

More News blogs

View RSS feed

Cartoon coalition


How Channel 4 News viewers picture the coalition in cartoon form

Token candidate?

Labour leadership candidate Diane Abbott (credit:Getty Images)

Diane Abbott: I am the genuine move-on candidate for Labour

'Mr Ordinary'

Andy Burnham, Getty images

Andy Burnham targets Labour's 'ordinary' person.

Iraq inquiry: day by day

Tony Blair mask burnt during protest outside the Iraq inquiry. (Credit: Getty)

Keep track of Sir John Chilcot's Iraq war findings day by day.

The Freedom Files

Freedom Files

Revealed: the stories they didn't want to tell.

Making a FoI request?

Channel 4 News tells you how to unearth information.

Channel 4 © 2010. Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.