David Blackburn

Renaissance of the Prince

Renaissance of the Prince
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‘Kindly pussycat’? ‘Minister for fun’? ‘A benign uncle?’ This was how Lord Mandelson described himself in that pantomime of an interview with the Guardian earlier this week. But this morning, the Prince of Darkness returned. Perhaps running the government for three days maligned the would-be Widow Twanky of Monday, but it is more likely that Mandy couldn’t resist crossing swords with George Osborne again. He launches a scathing personal and political attack on Osborne and his progressive agenda in today’s Guardian. Here are the key sections:

'To be a progressive is to believe that we can make a better society and improve the conditions of individual lives by acting together...It is to believe in the necessity and value of social justice. Osborne doesn't believe this and couldn't speak about it with conviction.

Osborne simply defines progressive to mean whatever the Tories believe this month. Which is, above all, an ideological commitment to government retrenchment and a budget cut until it is "balanced", regardless of the consequences for growth or individual welfare.

The role of government and the state of the public finances are important issues. But the Tory attitude to both quickly undermines their progressive claims. Of course, finances are tight and any government will have to assess its priorities for government spending carefully. But the ideological Tory approach to reducing the size – as opposed to focusing on the effectiveness and efficiency – of the state stands in the way of a genuinely progressive approach. Their talk of public sector reform – which has never been more vital – is simply code for cuts.’

The personal attack is classic PoD. Public services will dominate the next election, and Mandy’s spin is predictable, but, aside from the assertion that the Tories are uninterested in efficiency, it is valid. Mandelson realises that Osborne’s Demos speech has not secured the progressive agenda for the Tories. Therefore, Mandy characterises the Tories as a nasty, superficial party, engaging in ‘political cross-dressing’ as an expedient to appeal to disillusioned centre left voters. That is a caricature but it raises a point the Tories must address. The Tories’ emphasis on the budget deficit has redrawn the battle-lines over tax and public spending in their favour; but, until they articulate a set of developed policies and illustrate that Labour’s plans are both fiscally reckless and an obstacle to reform, it will be easy for the government to describe the Conservatives as anything but progressive.  

UPDATE: Mandelson's abject performance on the Today programme this morning has done the Tories a favour. It was extraordinary how uncontrolled he was, especially when he told Evan Davis: 'You're not interviewing yourself, you're interviewing me". That said, his spin in the Guardian, and that's all it is, should encourage the Tories to expand their policies because, besides spin and personal attacks, Labour have no new answers on public service reform.