Peter Hoskin

Osborne makes progress

Osborne makes progress
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It's a big day for George Osborne.  The Shadow Chancellor is using his new platform at Demos — the think-tank which is credited with much of the brainwork behind the initial New Labour project, but which is now turning to the Tories as well as to the Purnellite wing of the Labour party — to deliver a speech on progressive politics.  I haven't read the whole thing yet, but the snippets which have been published in the papers make it seem like a significant moment in Project Cameron: when the Tories extrapolate their attacks on Brown's fiscal legacy further, and perhaps more resonantly, than they have done before.  Here's a key passage, to give you the idea:  

“...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 ... 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.”

Now, I know plenty of CoffeeHousers are wary about the rhetoric of "progressive politics".  And I can see where you're coming from: after all, it's a nebulous enough concept at the best of times, and then politicians start applying it to anything and everything they see fit.  

But the fact remains that the battle for the progressive ground will be one of the key battles of the next election.  All signs are that one of Brown's main attacks will be to caricature the Tories as a party "for the few," who are setting out a "millionaires' manifesto" for their rich friends.  Even just politically speaking — there are, of course, plenty of moral, economic and social reasons to improve the life chances of the least well-off — the Tories need to counter this.

Cameron & Co. have two main advantages in this particular fight.  First, they have a heap of regressive Labour measures to point to: from the abolition of the 10p tax rate* to, as Osborne points out, a debt burden which will achieve little but increase the financial pressure on huge swathes of society.  And, second, they have perhaps the most progressive policy of the lot: Michael Gove's Swedish-style school reforms.  Even over the past few days, it seems Gove has become a more high-profile presence — with a couple of interviews, along with a comment piece, in the papers - as the Tories look to push outwards on the progressive front.

* Although, in private, Tories say they don't want to attack Brown over 10p too much, as doing so would imply that they'd reverse the abolition of the tax band.