Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Is George Osborne having a laugh?

It is genuinely intriguing to see George Osborne argue that the Tories are now the real 'progressives' as he does in an article in the The Guardian today. If the Tories want to seize the 'progressive' mantle (whatever that may mean) let them stake their claim.

I can only imagine that George Osborne decided to take the michael out the The Guardian in the article he has actually written. Perhaps he agreed to do something on being a 'progressive' then realised he had no argument so just thought he would throw down whatever came into his head at the time onto a piece of paper. The article is as thin as tracing paper and just as transparent.

Without conducting a line by line analysis because it really is not worth the time and effort, a couple of gems stick out:

- 'The free market economy is the fairest way of rewarding people for their efforts.' Really? Then why, as he states elsewhere in his article, do we have the widest income inequality since Victorian times (in fact, we don't. See here)? Or is that fair? If so, how exactly is that 'progressive'?
- 'The target driven, top-down, statist approach pioneered by David Miliband.' Now, now George, you know full well that this is in no way, shape or form a description of Labour's economic policy.

The really fascinating thing about this article is that, for all the talk of freedom and fairness, absolutely nowhere does Mr Osborne spell out how this would be reflected in a Conservative programme. Taxing nondoms and (the right to request) flexible working for both parents hardly constitute earth moving philosophical manoeuvres no matter how desirable they are as policies. How are we to come to any other conclusion than this is just thinly veiled political positioning?

Rather shamelessly, George Osborne also writes the Thatcher/Major years out of history. They were hardly defined by their 'fairness'. That is, unless we are defining fairness as whatever the free market throws out. In which case you can define anything as anything. A dog becomes a giraffe, defeat becomes triumph, rain becomes sunshine.

What this article underlines is that the Conservatives are getting away with mind-blowing superficiality. Rather like George Bush's 'compassionate conservatism', these ideas would be blown away in the first gust that comes along should they be in Government.

If I was George Osborne, I would be worrying myself about the fact that I had completely dropped the ball on Northern Rock and the fact that I was leaving my party woefully exposed by failing to develop a credible alternative economic strategy. It can only be a mark of his closeness to David Cameron that he hasn't been moved off the economic brief. If the alternative is to make him Chairman of the Conservative party, then this article demonstrates his limitations as a political attack dog also.

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