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Osborne promises liberalism, localism, living within means and public sector liberalisation

In a speech later today to the Blairite think tank Demos, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne will say that the Tories are now the true progressives in British politics.  According to the FT he will accuse Labour of "illiberalism, centralisation, fiscal incontinence and opposition to meaningful public service reform."

FourLs In each of those four areas the Conservatives can indeed point to meaningful efforts to move Britain in a 'progressive' direction:

  • Labour "illiberalism" versus Conservative liberalism: On civil liberties the Conservatives have opposed a stream of authoritarian measures from Labour as well as becoming a champion of homosexual equality.
  • Labour centralisation versus Conservative localism: Elected Policy Chiefs are the flagship Tory proposal on localisation but the party may also be moving towards localised pay bargaining in local government.  Lord Hanningfield of Essex County Council begins a six part series for ConservativeHome today, examining options for localisation.
  • Labour fiscal incontinence versus Conservative fiscal responsibility: Although George Osborne matched Labour's reckless spending plans for far too long they have recently been more honest than Labour about the need for real spending cuts and also bravely opposed Darling's VAT cut.
  • Labour's public service timidity versus Tory public service reform: On schools the Conservatives are genuinely radical with proposals for a supply-side revolution that will see schools set their own pay and choose their own examination systems.  Also notable are Tory plans for the family and prisons.  On health the Conservatives remain very cautious.
Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme Mr Osborne said the choice for voters was between Tory reform of public services so that more could be delivered for less (as Sweden, Canada and America had achieved) or cuts to frontline services under Labour.

Quizzed on Tory tax plans he said that he could not rule out increases but there had been "absolutely no internal discussions" about increasing VAT to 20%.  There were "no secret plans," he insisted and that the bulk of fiscal adjustment must come from the spending half of the equation.  "People should not be overtaxed to pay for Labour's overspending," he concluded.  Listen here to the full interview.

It's obviously appropriate for George Osborne to say he cannot write his first budget now but I agree with The Spectator's James Forsyth that "it seems absurd for them to say that they haven’t had any discussions about which taxes they could raise, if necessary, with least damage to the economy."  James writes:

"The press don’t make this easy sometimes, but the Tories should be prepared to talk to the public like adults rather than issuing denials that stretch credulity. David Cameron likes to attack Gordon Brown for treating people like fools, he should be careful that his party does not start doing the same whenever a story that is inconvenient to it comes along."

Tim Montgomerie


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