Philip Collins in The Times today expounds brilliantly on why David Cameron's "progressive conservatism" is a contradiction in terms:
In his conference speech in Manchester this month, Mr Cameron made the intriguing claim that, in the very act of reducing the size of the State, a future Conservative government would improve the condition of the poor. When the State withdraws, he argued, the wounds of society heal over. The main problem of the poor, by this argument, is not that they have too little money but that they have too much government.
Well, it’s a view. We will all somehow make ourselves better. The naivety would be touching if it wasn’t so irritating. The Conservative conference was full of earnest young people pointing out that they had just discovered something called “the poor” that the Labour Government had shamefully failed.
For the record, inequality has never risen faster than during the Thatcher years. John Major reduced inequality through the genius expedient of arranging a recession. Over the past decade the salaries of the educated have risen quicker than the wages of the uneducated. The upshot of government action — the minimum wage and tax credits — has almost, but not quite, offset the growing income inequality.
I wouldn't give Major even that much credit, although he did once accept that it was the duty of government to try to close the gap between rich and poor. The dip in the graph above of the Gini coefficient, the standard measure of inequality (taken from the Institute for Fiscal Studiesreport, Inequality Under the Labour Government, pdf, March 2003, p4), is hardly significant.
Collins goes on:
Mr Cameron will have to undergo an extraordinary policy conversion if he is serious about meeting his pledge. It has to be said that he has made a rotten start. We know that the Tories are keen to lift the threshold for inheritance tax. They propose to abolish the Government’s job guarantee for young people. They want to move incapacity claimants on to unemployment assistance and offer a handout to married couples for the virtue of marriage. Whatever else can be said for these policies, every one will have a detrimental effect on equality. It’s harder than it looks, being a socialist.