Magazine article The Spectator

'Progressive Conservatism' Riles Mandelson Because Labour Has Achieved So Little

Magazine article The Spectator

'Progressive Conservatism' Riles Mandelson Because Labour Has Achieved So Little

Article excerpt

Conservatism is beautifully simple.

It flows from the belief that society is stronger and fairer when power lies with the many and not the few. It is about trusting institutions - the family, the community - while being sceptical about the grander claims of government. It is about believing that a man will spend the money he earns more wisely and justly than the state could ever do on his behalf. To be a conservative is, fundamentally, a vote of faith in mankind. But how can one distil all this into a soundbite?

David Cameron has struggled to answer this question. He watched uncomfortably as William Hague (briefly) and then Iain Duncan Smith tried to import 'compassionate conservatism' from the US Republican party.

Since becoming leader in December 2005, Mr Cameron has used the label 'social responsibility', an idea which Steve Hilton, his brand strategist, had sold with much success to the corporate sector. Then came the idea of the 'post-bureaucratic age' - in itself the kind of unwieldy phrase you might expect a bureaucrat to use. But now, a form of words has been found which is successful insofar as it seems to drive the left into apoplexy: 'progressive conservatism'.

Few Tories will have bothered to listen too closely to the speech George Osborne made on this subject on Tuesday. For them, it goes without saying that Conservative policies do most to help the poor and to promote social mobility - why else, after all, did Labour achieve so little with all that money in the last dozen years? As Churchill once put it: 'We are for the ladder. Let all try their best to climb. They are for the queue. Let each wait his place until his turn comes.' It is self-evident to Conservatives that the ladder is of far more use to the disadvantaged.

So, to Tory ears, the concept of 'progressive conservatism' does not sound especially arresting. For Labour and certain parts of the media, however, the idea is counter-intuitive and provocative. Those wicked Tories saying they care about the poor? To those on the left, the idea is little short of heresy. As a result, next month's Labour party conference is peppered with fringe events addressing this supposedly new phenomenon. A former theology lecturer named Phillip Blond has given it the catchy name of 'Red Toryism' - and attracted so much interest that he has raised £1.5 million in a fortnight for a new think tank. This is, quite literally, where the money is.

Lord Mandelson is growing increasingly alarmed. He has popped up on television and penned an article for Wednesday's Guardian accusing his former Corfu dining partner of 'political cross-dressing'. Coming from the prince of political drag, this was quite a compliment. When Lord Mandelson said he was 'seriously relaxed about people getting filthy rich' he was trying on Tory clothes (enjoying it so much that he decided to keep many of them). As he knows better than most, crossdressing is what political parties tend to do before a landslide victory.

Gordon Brown has long been infuriated by this. The Prime Minister is happy with Conservatives talking about efficiency and the ability of the market to allocate resources more effectively than the state. But he hates it when the Tories park their tanks on his red lawn, talking about the 'broken society', and considers it outright theft when men of the right like Mr Duncan Smith dare to speak of 'social justice'. Never before has Labour faced such a sustained Tory assault on what it regards as its heartland issues. …

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