The latest in a series of Tory oxymorons.

“The torch of progressive politics has been passed to a new generation of politicians – and those politicians are Conservatives.”, he told Demos earlier today. Do excuse me while I chortle a little. I’m actually not sure whether he’s just being opportunist by taking a “nice” word from the lefties and using it as sugar coating for the Tories, or just being plain deluded. If it was the latter, then he’d be going down a treat at the Comedy Store.

And so we have a new entry into the Tory Oxymoron Collections: progressive conservatism – filed with “compassionate conservatism” and “moral capitalism”.

But wait. The Boy Gideon does have some explanation for this sweeping statement – “There is nothing progressive about out-of-control spending that the poorest end up having to pay for, and nothing fair about huge national debts that future generations are left having to pay for. And it is that fiscal responsibility allied to a passionate belief in public service reform – particularly in education – which is the only progressive route out of this debt crisis.” He also accuses the Labour Party of persuing a “course of illiberalism, centralisation, fiscal incontinence and opposition to meaningful public service reform”.

This isn’t the first time the Tories have tried to cherry-pick elements of lefty politics that they like the look of – Cameron did famously try to advocate “Conservative Co-operatives” for education – met by a rather stern response from the Co-operative Party.

But Osbourne should re-evaluate his understanding of progressivism. If the Tories really are the “new progressives”, where is the support for progressive taxation? Ya know Osbourne, that policy that involves higher taxation for the rich – judging by the Tory response to the 50% tax on the highest earners, I don’t sense any progressivism there. So where are the examples of the Tories progressivism? Osbourne elaborates:

“Whether it is pioneering open primaries to select our parliamentary candidates, or using new technology to give the public power through access to government information, or our commitment to a radical localisation of power, we are the ones setting the progressive pace in politics.”

I don’t agree. Progressivism, as I see it, is often a mix of government economic control (regulation rather than ownership) and liberal social policy. So the Tories have open primaries. It’s radical and dynamic yes, but it’s no proof of Tory progressivism. Still, I suppose George had to come up with something that sounded vaguely liberal, dynamic and fresh (or in other words, hits all the buzzwords).

“If we don’t reform public services like health and education, and make the money that is available go further, the alternative is deep cuts to the front line services that we need to compete and deliver the dream of a fairer society.”

No doubt Osbourne. I want a fair society too. I do not see anything from the Tories that convinces me that they will deliver the reform that we so desperately to stop history repeating. A commitment to fiscal progressivism (which, to be honest, is probably what Osbourne means) will probably balance the books, in theory. But it’s not radical reform.

Progressive Toryism – the latest in a series of oxymorons.


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