Can the Left simply dismiss this phrase as an oxymoron? Some on the Left (despite their initial sniggers) are trying to engage with this idea. Personally I simply do not believe or trust the Tory front bench when they talk of being progressive. How can we reconcile the vast growth in inequality during the Tory years with the Tory claims of today, that they will reduce inequality, especially when every policy they announce is clearly unreconstructed Thatcherism that increases inequality - tax cuts for savers, higher IHT thresholds, slashing public spending on infrastructure, public transport, social services etc (while increasing expenditure in areas that do not benefit the poorest - higher defence budget, increased police, managers and consultant wages, PFI and court costs). In the end the Tories spent similar amounts of taxpayers money but they shifted the burden onto the lower paid and cutback vital services that the poorest rely on the most. It was the exact opposite of progressive and I see no change from Thatcherism in the ideas emanating from Cameron and his Eton ilk of cabinet colleagues.
Public expenditure is the crux of the matter - the Cameron mantra, like Thatcher, Reagan and Bush before him is 'less state is good', while the new right 'bloggertarians' revel in 'McWhirter' ideas of freedom where the state is shrunk, they fail to see Tory history repeating itself, as Barack Obama stated in his inaugural address 'The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works'.
All progress comes from advances in efficiency (usually technological and scientific advances but also organisational) - this is where right wing bloggers like Mark Wadsworth, Devil's Kitchen and me can agree - we can see the benefits of a citizens income, land value tax and more competitive elections (i.e. proportional representation). We can all agree that some areas of government are poor value for money - where we differ is in our solutions. The Right want to do away with the state completely, whereas I want to replace the bits that don't work and expand the bits that do. I have always chosen evolutionary action over revolutionary action. While the first can be very slow, it is much less messy and without the risks of the latter. If welfare causes laziness (a key right-wing argument) then why are workers from Eastern Europe (after decades of the most interventionist state) seemingly so industrious?
Still, after saying all this - I hope there is such a thing as progressive conservatism and that the 'new Tories' defy the evidence of their mounting manifesto and subscribe to it. It seems whatever the Tories have planned for us, we will find out in less than 18 months time. The large Tory leads in the polls and Gordon Brown's inability to do humility and give the people something to like him for, all point to us finding out exactly what the Tories do have in store for us.