Monday, December 17, 2007

Is Cameron playing fast and loose with words?

David Cameron is nothing if not audacious. He is after all, the Conservative leader who set out to be the "heir to Blair," who tried to steal the Lib Dems' long-held mantle as the party of the environment, and who even attempted to convince us that the Tories are now the party that cares most about "society."

So it should come as no great surprise that Mr Cameron, in his call for a Tory-Lib alliance to topple Gordon Brown, is now trying to purloin the label "progressive," which has, in British politics at least, traditionally belonged to the centre-left.

I seem to recall there was some discussion about using the word "progressive" in the title of the Liberal Conspiracy blog, but the common consensus was that it's a word that's more readily abused even than "liberal." If so, Mr Cameron's initiative seems to show we probably made the right decision.

Dictionary definitions are no great help. Among those listed by the Free Dictionary are:

  • Moving forward; advancing.
  • Proceeding in steps; continuing steadily by increments: progressive change.
  • Promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods: a progressive politician; progressive business leadership.

  • By this token, "progressive" is about as meaningful as that irritating and vacuous piece of management consultancy jargon that is now heard in offices up and down the land - "going forward."

    The dictionary also lists a specific definition for "progressive" in the context of taxation, namely:

    A tax that takes a larger percentage from the income of high-income people than it does from low-income people.

    This is more helpful in terms of defining a centre-left agenda, but then again David Cameron probably claims he believes in this as well, in the sense that we already have a progressive taxation system, and he isn't seeking to make it any less progressive.

    Is progressive a word worth fighting over - or should its definition forthwith be restricted to a form of rock music involving long guitar solos, mellotrons and metaphysical imagery?

  • Cross-posted at Liberal Conspiracy.

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    RedEye said...

    Cameron is merely offering reactionary wine in a centrist bottle. He claims to be progressive, yet wants to withdraw from the Social Chapter, makes great play of his being a parent of a disabled son (while voting against the government's attempts to give flexitime to the parents of all disabled children), and sneers at Education Maintenance Allowances (which pays £40 a week to pupils from lower-income backgrounds to stay on at school, money which can make all the difference) as 'a bribe'.

    He has also shown absolutely no interest in taking the low paid out of tax.

    Should he win next time (as he may well), it'll be, as with George W Bush, the conservatism that's the reality. Indeed, George Osborne has stated that the Tories have much to learn from George W Bush.

    It's also interesting to know that Cameron's Chief of Staff was Alexander Deane. This is a man who opposes the ban on landmines, and who complains that middle-class Britain has given up on its 'mission' to 'civilise' the British working-classes. Instead it now apes the 'manner, attitude and voice' of 'chav Britain'. So much for a Tory Party that's at ease with Britain as it is now.

    Even if the minimum wage is kept, it will be left to wither on the vine through below inflation increases and inadequate enforcement.

    Cameron's ostensible interest in the environment, meanwhile, could be a convenient way of taxing the poor to fund tax cuts for the well-off. When the supposedly nice, One Nation John Major introduced VAT on fuel (a policy which really hurt the working poor), the excuse used was that it was introduced to meet our commitments from the 92 Rio Summit.

    The people round him, meanwhile, are such horrible snobs that they refer to David Davis as 'a frightful oik'.

    Cameron isn't even a genuine One Nation Tory, let alone a progressive.

    Prague said...

    In Birmingham we've had a Lib-Con progressive partnership for years. Works quite well as it happens.

    rob's uncle said...

    The OED has: ' . . 4b: Of an individual, policy, or party: advocating or working towards change or reform in society, esp. in political or religious matters; committed to progress, forward-looking . Applied at different times and in different places to various political groups committed to progress or reform In the United States now often used as a self-designation by people on the left to avoid the term liberal.

    1830 Times 18 Nov. 2/6 The Ministers..find themselves every instant compromised by their progressive allies whose support they expected.
    . . 2005 Nation 15 Aug. 18/1 Yes, of course, he'd like the Democratic Party to be more progressive and for third parties to develop the capacity to pull the political process to the left.'

    Anonymous said...

    A lot of the battle these days seems to focus on the language used rather than the policies behind it. Gordon Brown has been talking like a right-winger when David Cameron has been talking like a centrist, but the realities are quite different.