Miliband: Progressive conservatism doesn’t “withstand serious scrutiny”

In a speech at Demos, David Miliband directly confronted the Tory's 'progressive conservatism' philosophy. He set out Labour's core value to give people power.

In a speech this afternoon, David Miliband directly confronted the Conservative party’s philosophy of ‘progressive conservatism’ while setting out Labour’s core value “to use government to help give people the power to shape their own lives.”

Speaking as part of Demos’s Politics 2010 series, the Foreign Secretary said:

“It is a compliment to our time in government that after 2005 our opponents tried to learn our language.  David Cameron and George Osborne have both made speeches in which they tried to claim the idea of being a progressive force for the political right.  But it is not a claim that withstands serious scrutiny …

“New Labour was built on the application of our traditional values in new ways.  The Tories are saying that they have got new values – in with social justice, out with no such thing as society – that will be applied in old ways, notably an assault on the legitimacy and purpose of government itself.

Later he directly challenged the critique made by David Cameron in his Hugo Young lecture. Directly quoting the Conservative leader, he said:

“The kernel of [Cameron]s] analysis of Britain today was this: “There is less expectation to take responsibility, to work, to stand by the mother of your child, to achieve, to engage with your local community, to keep your neighbourhood clean, to respect other people and their property”. It was declinist.  It blamed government for all ills.

“And every single assertion that can be measured in his list was wrong. Divorce rates are falling.  School achievement is rising.  Volunteering is up.  Crime is down.  The Tory dystopia of modern Britain relies on a picture of what is actually happening in Britain that has as much basis in reality as Avatar does.  They need to believe that 54% of children born in poor areas are teenage pregnancies for their politics to add up.”

Answering a question from Left Foot Forward about James Purnell’s critique last week that, “What Labour stands for is less clear now than in 1997, and that is in part because we haven’t given people an ideological washing line on which to hang our policies,” Miliband outlined that Labour’s values were those of “social democrats and radical liberals”. He suggested that in 1997 New Labour had been clear about what it was against while the challenge was harder now because the party had to explain what it was for.

Miliband also responded directly to David Cameron’s speech yesterday to the Network on the Post-Bureaucratic Age:

“Power needs to be vested in the people, but we do not reveal a powerful populace simply in the act of withdrawing the state … We make powerful people by providing a platform on which people can stand.

“The argument of the Right is that this alliance should be based on a zero sum view of relationships between government and society. To roll society forward you need to roll government back.  That’s not how I see it.”

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