During the detoxification phase of the Cameron Project to get the Conservative Party re-elected they re-branded themselves as “progressive”, which is the opposite of conservative. It disarmed critics at the cost of ideological coherence.
All parties now say they are committed to welfare reform, even Red Ed says he agrees with IDS that it should always pay more to work rather than stay at home on welfare. Yet whenever a practical reform to this end is advanced a chorus goes up from the left-wing think tanks, Labour politicians, the Guardian and the BBC that it is not “progressive”. Guido does not seriously dispute the methodology or accuracy of the IFS analysis of the Spending Review, no doubt the bottom decile will be marginally worse off in proportion to other population deciles as a result of the Spending Review. Guido questions how we can move forward without, in aggregate, the lowest decile losing out.
The lowest income decile in this country is comprised largely of welfare transfer recipients, these people receive money largely from the working poor and the squeezed middle, quite simply that decile’s welfare payments come from the taxes of the rest of us. The only way that reforms can be made to fit the “progressive” template that would please the progressive choir would be to pay the unemployed more money taken from the working poor and the squeezed middle. That might be “progressive” but it won’t lead to progress.
It is in no one’s interest to increase the poverty trap by increasing the payments to those who aren’t working at the expense of those who are working. It isn’t progressive, it is divisive.
One example of a reform which struck Guido as common sense yet raised the hackles of “progressive” lefties; Osborne announced in the Spending Review that single claimants aged under 35 will be limited to claiming housing benefit for the equivalent of a room in a shared home, rather than for a one-bedroom flat. Almost everyone working in the private sector who is single is unable to afford their own home in London, sharing is the norm. Is it fair that young single welfare-claimants are paid enough for a flat of their own which their working peers can’t afford? “Progressives” are campaigning against this fair reform.
Osborne’s “progressive” phase was a tactical necessity during the detoxification phase, it is a hindrance to real progress now. Attempting to solve the problems we face using policies that pass an arbitrary “progressive” bar will fail. It is time the Liberal-Conservative government abandoned the pretence to “progressivism” to move the country forward.