Lord Mandelson and George Osborne, the old yachting buddies, are busy feuding over the Conservatives progressive credentials or lack of them. It reminds me of a scene from the BBC’s Thick of It when Malcom Tucker demands that a rival slap his mandate on the table and they compare relative sizes. Joking aside there is always a political scramble to claim progressive credentials; Nick Clegg has already claimed them from Labour on our behalf. If nothing else it shows how important the notion of progress in how desperate politicians are to claim the mantle for their respective side. People like the idea that things can change for the better and are more likely to elect people who they think will deliver it.
In Osborne’s case the agenda is clear; he desperately wants to whip-up some positive enthusiasm for the incoming Cameron government, the kind which Tony Blair had in 1997 but certainly up to this point Cameron lacks. In his piece in The Times Osborne invokes the spirit of Benjamin Disraeli and says that reform of the public services is progressive and that Labour is the party of cuts. He promises;
“far-reaching reforms to improve the productivity of public services under the Conservatives, or frontline cuts under a Labour leadership that has run away from reform.”
Unfortunately, he neglects to mention what ‘productivity’ in public services is and how it would be measured. Mandelson completely misses this point in his reply but presumably because he doesn’t want to play into the charge of being ‘target-obsessed’. His chief charge against Osborne is that;
“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.”
Or alternatively whatever the Labour Party wants to paint the Conservatives as believing this month. This debate looks as stale as it actually is and were Clegg not convinced on playing to the lowest common denominator with his equally stale talk of ‘aspirations’ he could actually be the fresh voice and win the debate and lay just claim to the progressive mantle.