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The allegations made against Phillip Blond, the Director of 'Red Tory' think tank ResPublica, in The Sunday Times yesterday are yet another body blow against progressive conservatism. It follows the discrediting of the Big Society concept earlier this year, the apparent shift of Cameron towards a more traditional Tory position on law and order in the wake of the riots, and the fact that, even as I write, it is the hardcore eurosceptic right that are setting the agenda in the Commons.

This slow demise of the progressive conservatism project has already evoked glee on the right.  Many on the left will feel equally happy, convinced, as they were, that the whole idea was nothing more than a PR exercise designed to dupe liberal-minded floating voters.

As with most ideological strains that are dragged suddenly into the spotlight by a rising political star, the ideas and arguments of progressive conservatism were often half-baked and somewhat woolly. The same could be said, for example, of the stakeholder capitalism, communitarianism and third way strands of thought that animated Tony Blair on his rise to power in the mid-nineties. Blue Labour, de rigeur in the Labour Party, exhibits similar characteristics.

But for all those weaknesses, progressive conservatism (much like Blue Labour) was grappling with a fundamental problem that neither traditional right nor traditional left will face up to. That problem is that neither the free market nor the interventionist state seem able to generate adequate solutions to the big challenges we face .  Whether it is climate change, the ageing society, social dislocation, sustainable economic growth, the housing crisis or a range of other formidable challenges, interventionist solutions seem continuously stymied by unavoidable constraints on state power while the unbridled market is as much a cause of the problems as their solution.

This is why progressive conservatism was right to look to other resources, beyond market and state, for the solutions in the form of civil society action and citizen-led initiatives. So the vehicle for such a perspective may be sickly but the challenge progressive conservatism tried to address will not go away. 

Some of the political energy for those facing up to the problem will now dissipate. But it will also give space to those more interested in the substance of the challenge (such as the RSA), rather than the party politics, to work through solutions that go beyond state or market perspectives in a more robust and detailed way. So ultimately, and probably in an entirely different guise, the notions behind progressive conservatism will re-emerge and they may well  be far stronger and meaningful when they do.


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