‘Progressive’: To be or not to be

August 12, 2009 3:10 PM

George Osborne once again laid out the Tory’s ‘progressive’ vision for the public sector yesterday. In his speech held at the Blarite think-tank Demos – a calculated choice of venue – the Shadow Chancellor described how the “the torch of progressive politics” has now been passed to the Conservatives. "By pursuing a course of illiberalism, centralisation, fiscal incontinence and opposition to meaningful public service reform, the current leadership of the Labour Party has abandoned the field."


Conservative plans for schools are genuinely progressive.  Not as full throated as some would like, but radical and positive none the less. Elsewhere Tory reforms are little less developed, but the commitment to localism and decentralisation are solid foundations.


The devil is in the details of course. Plus, with health and international development already ‘ring-fenced’ – two key areas of public spending in need of reform – Conservative hands are less free than they might be.  But as a statement of intent, or at least a reiteration of intent, it was promising.  To enable the Government to lower taxes, while ensuring that provision of services remains (or in many cases improves), radical reform of many services is needed. Governments have often used the existence of tough economic conditions as an excuse to put public sector reform on hold. But the time for  bold ideas, that will upset vested interests and challenge accepted orthodoxies is now.


Of course Osborne used yesterday’s speech, in the main, to attack Labour and its attitude to public sector management: “...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”.

George Osborne once again laid out the Tory’s ‘progressive’ vision for the public sector yesterday. In his speech held at the Blarite think-tank Demos – a calculated choice of venue – the Shadow Chancellor described how the “the torch of progressive politics” has now been passed to the Conservatives. "By pursuing a course of illiberalism, centralisation, fiscal incontinence and opposition to meaningful public service reform, the current leadership of the Labour Party has abandoned the field."


Conservative plans for schools are genuinely progressive.  Not as full throated as some would like, but radical and positive none the less. Elsewhere Tory reforms are little less developed, but the commitment to localism and decentralisation are solid foundations.


The devil is in the details of course. Plus, with health and international development already ‘ring-fenced’ – two key areas of public spending in need of reform – Conservative hands are less free than they might be.  But as a statement of intent, or at least a reiteration of intent, it was promising.  To enable the Government to lower taxes, while ensuring that provision of services remains (or in many cases improves), radical reform of many services is needed. Governments have often used the existence of tough economic conditions as an excuse to put public sector reform on hold. But the time for  bold ideas, that will upset vested interests and challenge accepted orthodoxies is now.


Of course Osborne used yesterday’s speech, in the main, to attack Labour and its attitude to public sector management: “...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”.

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