It seems that often the fight over the ownership of an idea in politics can be as vigorous as any election contest. The idea of being progressive has lain dormant, often used by Labour, but never particularly contested never mind defined. Former Labour MP, peer and Professor Emeritus David Marquand attached the moniker to Blair back in 2000, though recognising this as a problem for the party in terms of what being progressive means. The Conservatives may have invoked a similar problem!
MPs Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark have produced a pamphlet asking the question 'Who's Progressive Now?' The answer is unsurprisingly the Conservatives, they argue that Brown's use of the phrase 'Progressive Consensus' shows the term to be empty of meaning; it is the fact that they see Brown as standing still, not progressing or achieving anything, that leads to this claim. The Conservatives may not be historically associated with the phrase but, Hunt and Clark argue, the party has been the one of progress throughout its history.
They also lay out an alternative definition of the term building six key planks of being 'progressive'. They are: making progress; being hostile to uniformity and embracing diversity; being actively concerned about the less fortunate; an antipathy to unmerited hierarchies; a concern for social, as well as economic, goals; and a sense of responsibility for the future. Reading these one would think they should be central to the goals of any democratic party.
However the pamphlet critiques Labour under Brown (Blair being mentioned 13 times, mostly alongside Brown, Brown is named 28 times) before setting out how Cameron's leadership has stuck closest to the tenets of being progressive as set out by the authors. They map fairly closely to US ideas of progressivism from the turn of the century.
Big questions, are such ideas more of a risk than an advantage. Due to the abstract nature of terms such as progressive politics, can any failure in making progress be called unprogressive? Equally, and perhaps alternatively, can any party claim to own ideas that should underpin the policies of every democratic aspirant. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, do such phrases and ideas have any resonance with the public and will they be translated into ideas that do have relevance to the lives of the voter?
Perhaps as a set of ideas and tenets the pamphlet is useful in setting down democratic benchmarks for a party; however making such ideas as undermining unmerited hierarchies a point of principle in a nation and world full of such hierarchies means there could be a problem in practice and it is the practice that can be the problem for any progressive party.