Understatement is perhaps not Phillip Blond’s forte. The director of the “progressive conservatism” project aims at nothing less than ushering in a new era in British post-war politics. First came “state-sponsored Keynesianism” (1945-1979), then came “neoliberalism” (1979-2008), and now comes “progressive conservatism” (2009 – ?).
In a nutshell, progressive conservatism is a belief that both the big state and the free market only serve small elites – bureaucrats and oligopolists respectively – and disempower “ordinary people”. The alternative to both consists of two (intertwined) pillars, “a full-blooded new localism” and a reborn civil society.
Surely localism means Swiss-style competitive federalism? Unfortunately not. For Phillip Blond, localism appears to mean that the central government (!) should break up supermarkets and other big players, who are “strangling local commerce” and destroying distinct local identities.
But if Tesco, for example, rides roughshod over local cultures, then why do so many people buy there? Would you buy in a place that you feel is trampling on your values all the time? The answer must be that people either do not believe that their local identity is defined by where they buy their milk and toothpaste, or that they do have a preference for stores and products with a local character, but not at any price.
So why not state the case like this: “Most people’s willingness to pay a mark-up at a store with a specific ‘local’ image is not high enough to offset Tesco’s price advantage. Therefore, Tesco’s prices must be artificially raised by depriving the company of economies of scale, to push consumers back on the high street, and bring their buying behaviour in line with Phillip Blond’s personal preferences.”
As far as the “civil society” pillar is concerned, the progressive conservatism project presents a variant of a social democratic fallacy which has been refuted by two IEA authors, namely, that the government can deliberately create “social capital”. While for social democrats “creating social capital” means handing out taxpayers’ money to organisations promoting leftist values, for progressive conservatives it would mean handing out taxpayers’ money to conservative-minded organisations like the “conservative co-operative movement“.
The writer Gotthold E. Lessing is alleged to have said about a book he reviewed that it “contains many new and good things; but the good things are not new, and the new things are not good.” The same is true of progressive conservatism.