8:58 am - August 21st 2008
There are two ways to look at George Osborne and the Tories’ latest kite-flying exercise, this time on social justice, equality and fairness.
You can accept it takes a great degree of courage that it’s the Tories recognising their past mistakes and moving onto the New Labour agenda; or you can just be staggered by the chutzpah from a group of politicians that don’t seem to have any limits to how far they will go to prove that they really, honestly, truly care about subjects which they previously had very little time for.
On the basis of Osborne’s article, it’s difficult not to come to the second conclusion.
It’s with a piece with most of the recent articles by the Conservatives that have appeared in the Guardian – big on rhetoric, minuscule on actual policy. The one thing that Osborne’s has going for it is that unlike Oliver Letwin, who managed to write over 600 words without naming one specific policy, he actually suggests what the Tories would actually do were they to win power. The problem is that we’ve heard it all before multiple times, and indeed, some of it is what Yvette Cooper covered in her piece on Monday.
Yet this sudden acknowledgement that unfettered free markets are also flawed seems to be incredibly opportunistic: only last year John Redwood announced his unreconciled belief in the “trickle down theory” and also proposed removing all the current “red tape” surrounding mortgages, right at the time when the unsustainable lunacy of 115% or higher mortgages has brought the likes of Northern Rock so low.
In any case, Osborne doesn’t actually say what the Tories would do to tame the free market; he only mentions a “robust framework”. Yet isn’t that exactly the red tape which the Conservatives and business so despise? He mentions also flexible working and a charge on non-domiciles, but with again without providing any details on either.
The same goes for redistribution, which Osborne believes has failed. The Conservatives, the supposed party of radical economic reform, or at least since the days of Thatcher, again don’t offer an alternative here. As has been argued before here and elsewhere, the best possible alternative policy is to abolish tax credits and raise the lowest earners out of tax altogether, at the same time instituting a basic citizens’ income and raising the top rates for the highest earners, or at least those of over £100,000 a year, and also cracking down far far harder on tax evasion, which by some estimates costs more than £25bn a year in lost revenue, far above that on benefit fraud and through overpayments on tax credits.
All Osborne is offering are the same crackdowns on the sick and the unemployed, with an ever harsher regime that that envisioned under Purnell.
You know full well though that none of this really matters. The Guardian’s comment pages have only become more bulging with Tories of late because they think that they need to be slightly less dogmatic than in the past in order to dispense with the fusty old image of themselves not caring in the slightest about things like social mobility.
No one for a moment believes that if Osborne becomes the next chancellor he’ll be making many more speeches to the Demos thinktank; no, this is just another step in the public relations battle, the phony war between Labour and the Conservatives over who can occupy the tiniest piece of ground you’ve ever seen, situated somewhere to the right of centre on the political compass. Russia and Georgia has nothing on this.
John Rentoul at the Indy blog:
First, he ought to have taken more care over his research. He opens his trailer in The Guardian this morning with one of the most spurious factoids of recent years, that the gap in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest is “now at its widest since the Victorian era”.
This is utter nonsense.
In the Conservative dossier to back up his speech, the source for this is given as the British Medical Journal, 30 April 2005. That article, a left-wing polemic, did not even use the Victorian era comparison: that was used by the authors at the time of publication and went widely unreported (except, sadly, in The Independent), because it is so obviously off beam.
The methodology is misleading, comparing average life expectancy between the best and worst local authority areas. This tells us nothing about inequality of life expectancy over the whole population, merely how concentrated is the distribution of the long-lived and the short-lived. However, even this finding is disputed, among others by researchers at the Office for National Statistics who responded in the pages of the
'Septicisle' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He mostly blogs, poorly, over at Septicisle.info on politics and general media mendacity.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Economy ,Education ,Westminster
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