Osborne: Tories carry torch of progressive politics

Author: By David Hughes, Press Association

Mr Osborne said Gordon Brown was a “roadblock to reform” and called
for sweeping changes to public services to prevent deep cuts as a result of
ever-tighter budgets.

He highlighted measures such as the open primary system, which was used to
select the Tory candidate in Totnes, and the greater use of technology to
help citizens access official information as examples of the party’s radical
reforms.

In a keynote speech to the Demos think-tank, he also delivered a veiled rebuke
to right-wingers in his own party who want to see the leadership abandon key
parts of its reformist agenda in order to reduce public spending.

Mr Osborne said: “The torch of progressive politics has been passed to a
new generation of politicians – and those politicians are 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 of progressive
politics.

“In its place, the modern Conservative Party is now the dominant
progressive force in British politics.

“Whether it is pioneering open primaries to select our parliamentary
candidates, or using new technology to give the public power through access
to government information, or our commitment to a radical localisation of
power, we are the ones setting the progressive pace in politics.”

He warned that unless there was fundamental reform in health and education,
budget constraints would mean real cuts in services.

“If we don’t reform public services like health and education and make
the money that is available go further, the alternative is deep cuts to the
frontline services that we need to compete and deliver the dream of a fairer
society.

“Frontline cuts not progressive reform – that is the course that the
current Labour leadership offer.”

On the NHS, Mr Osborne said the Tories would bring productivity gains through “diversity
of provision” and payment by results.

Turning to education, Mr Osborne predicted that the “mini baby boom”
in the UK, which has seen a 14% increase in the number of births between
2003 and 2008, would mean cuts of up to £800 in spending per pupil under
Labour’s current system.

“We have to face up to the consequences of what happens when a mini baby
boom hits an unreformed education system at a time when money is tight.

“Without reforms to get more of the education budget to the front line
and reforms to make that money go further once it gets there, there will be
cuts in the classroom,” he warned.

In an apparent reference to hardline Tories who have questioned whether the
leadership should “roll back” its ambitions in response to
deteriorating public finances, Mr Osborne said: “Some now say that the
economic problems facing the country, and in particular the ballooning
budget deficit, mean that the Conservative Party must put our interest in
public service reform, localism and environmental improvement on the back
burner.

“They say that the progressive priorities that motivated the Conservative
Party in the first couple of years of David Cameron’s leadership are
luxuries that cannot be afforded in an age of austerity.

“I couldn’t disagree more strongly. Indeed, I would argue that our
commitment to fiscal responsibility in the face of mounting national debt is
not at odds with progressive politics, but fundamentally aligned to it.”

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said Mr Osborne’s speech was “vacuous”
and designed to cover up Conservative plans for “deep, wide and
immediate cuts to public services”.

He said: “The Conservatives can’t get away from the fact they would cut
£5 billion from public services right now. George Osborne needs to explain
what is progressive about his priority for a £200,000 tax give-away to a few
thousand of the richest estates.

“And why he’s willing to cut public services to pay for his ‘queue’ of
tax cuts for the highest earners.

“George Osborne can’t claim the mantle of reform when the Tories want to
drop guarantees for patients on NHS waiting times, oppose tough measures on
welfare reform and would reverse all the recent progress on making GPs open
at times to suit patients.”

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson told BBC News: “I think my old friend
George Osborne is involved in a bit of political cross-dressing here and I
don’t think it’s going to fool anyone.”

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s chief of staff Danny Alexander said: “It’s
not clear if George Osborne developed his understanding of the word
progressive with his chums in the Bullingdon Club or on the deck of Oleg
Deripaska’s yacht, but it seems he has misunderstood the concept.

“A progressive party would not cut taxes for multi-millionaires, stand in
the way of reforming Parliament or side with bigots, homophobes and climate
change deniers in Europe.”

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