25 January 2009

Progressive Conservatism?

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.


  1. This is a test comment

  2. Neil, I share your scepticism but, as you say, it looks like we shall find out soon enough. A related question is whether the Tories can really be green. Here, it's not the front bench that worries me -- Teresa Villiers has been so vehemently outspoken against Heathrow extension that I don't really see how they can backtrack once in power -- but the back benchers and the mainstream party activists, who, we keep hearing, are not at all happy about Cameron's green talk. Can he pull them on board? Would he face down a significant backbench rebellion? This comes to matter now, if we are giving up on Labour, as I did some time ago.

  3. Forget, please, "conservatism." It has been, operationally, de facto, Godless and therefore irrelevant. Secular conservatism will not defeat secular liberalism because to God both are two atheistic peas-in-a-pod and thus predestined to failure. As Stonewall Jackson's Chief of Staff R.L. Dabney said of such a humanistic belief more than 100 years ago:

    "[Secular conservatism] is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today .one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt bath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth."

    Our country is collapsing because we have turned our back on God (Psalm 9:17) and refused to kiss His Son (Psalm 2).

    John Lofton, Editor, TheAmericanView.com
    Recovering Republican