Lifting the lid on “progressive conservatism”

Bright Blue, a "progressive Conservative" gruop, is recognition of the left's success for 13 years. But doubts remain over whether their ideas have any traction.

On Wednesday Left Foot Forward attended the official launch of Bright Blue, a new organization campaigning for “progressive Conservative” polices with support from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. Their aims are a celebration of the left’s success over the last 13 years but doubts remain over whether their ideas have any traction within the Conservative party.

Speaking at the launch, Jonty Olliff-Cooper – part of the ‘executive team’ and head of Demos’ Progressive Conservatism project – told Left Foot Forward:

“we are partly here to hold the [Conservative] Party to account for what we think are progressive policies and we’re partly here to be a powerful voice pushing on the very burning and exciting issues such as aging, climate change, the use of the web, and resuscitating democracy.”

As David Miliband set out in a speech at Demos last month, it is flattering to the Labour government of the last 13 years that this agenda continues to dominate important parts of political life:

“After all, one reason the Conservative leadership are currently tied in policy knots – backing away from health reform, back to front on government’s role in sponsoring marriage, facing both ways on economic policy – is that they have felt it necessary to assert that they too seek progressive ends, contrary to the history of conservatism.”

Mr Olliff-Cooper insists that “people always trying to paint a war between us progressive Conservatives and the, I don’t know, ‘regressive’ Conservatives, it just isn’t like that”. But there remain serious doubts about whether the Conservatives would retain their commitment to progressive policies if they form the next government or whether, as one guest at the Bright Blue launch who did not wish to be named said, “Cameron is just setting out his cake stall”.

In the Spring 2010 edition of the Bright Blue magazine, ‘The Progressive Conscience‘, Fiona Melville and David Skelton of Platform 10, admit that:

“There are still too many MPs and members who refuse to understand that there is no alternative to making sure that the Party reflects the country it seeks to govern. There are still too many observers, commentators and political participants who want to continue to carry out old politics rather than the new approach that is required.”

All of which seems to confirm Julian Glover’s assessment in Prospect magazine that, “in pessimistic moments, the small group around the leader wonder if they will be able to make their modern Conservatism a reality.”

Neither have Conservative policies been particularly progressive thus far. Jonty Olliff-Cooper has written on this blog that, “The Conservatives cannot credibly claim to be progressive while supporting a cut in inheritance tax.” Their alliances in Europe with sexist and Islamophobic parties cast doubts over their progressive credentials while their international development policy has been slammed by no less an authority than the director of Unesco’s Global Monitoring Report on education, Kevin Watkins.

Indeed, Bright Blue’s own progressive credentials are undermined by the Conservative policy of tax breaks for married couples, which would benefit only six percent of all married couples. Bright Blue’s own spokesperson, Ryan Shorthouse, understands the policy well having been an adviser to the Shadow Family Secretary Maria Miller.

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