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What Does the term 'Progressive' Mean In Britain Today.


I suppose politicians like the word precisely because it is so vague and can be bent to mean anything they really want it to.

Since his election as Tory leader David Cameron has been busy rebranding himself as a "Progressive Conservative" although to me that feels like a contradiction in terms.

Nonetheless he and others in his party would argue they are indeed progressives..

That’s because in the public’s mind, the word progressive is synonymous with that equally vague term ‘fair’, something the British electorate like to see themselves as and something politicians are therefore keen to be seen as, themselves.

This can be seen in the media battles that took place after the 2010 election where Coalition ministers fought for their austerity policies to be seen as progressive because it made them seem kinder and not just hell-bent on wiping out jobs and services for ideological purposes.

So what David Cameron defines as Progressive doesn’t sit comfortably with me.

He and his party increasingly use progressive labels and language to frame and define what are in reality regressive policies designed to take us back to a pre-45 state of economic and social existence.

It’s an almost Orwellian use of the English language.

In 1946, George Orwell highlighted it as one of those words "often used in a consciously dishonest way" in his famous essay 'Politics and the English Language'. Orwell pointed out, such notions as ‘progressive’ lie at the heart of politics by deception. It’s political jargon without clear meaning - the most useless kind of word he believed. And that, ultimately, is the problem with a word with no fixed meaning - it can be made to mean anything you want.


So let us turn our minds to how the majority of us in THIS room may define the term progressive. I believe its a word often used as shorthand for a broadly left-wing way of looking at the world.

For me though, to truly be a Progressive the bottom line is that you have to believe in both democracy and a more equal distribution of economic resources.

That equates to a strong, open and democratic state using national and international institutions to intervene in markets to ensure they work in the interests of humanity generally. For me the democratic and economic components of progressivism are key.

But I understand there will be other progressives, who whilst not disagreeing with that sentiment, will have different progressive priorities other than economic distribution.

For example some like the Green Party will prioritise the environment above other progressive objectives.

Others from the social liberation movements will prioritise identity politics and ensuring their group gets a fairer share of resources or better treatment. It's one as a black man I can empathise with strongly.

Whilst others will value civil liberties above all other progressive values.

Ultimately I believe most Progressives understand their various priorities are not mutually exclusive but rather all linked together.

Degrading the environment will ultimately see a reduction of the resources available for fair distribution.
As history has shown fewer resources often lead to social disruption even wars. Already discriminated groups are used as scapegoats, setting back further their bid for better and fairer treatment….ultimately eroding the civil liberties of all.

Unfortunately the Progressive movement doesn’t always recognise this… with each group seeing its particular priority as the only true path.

The irony is we have far more in common than we disagree on. Priorities aside, our broad direction of travel is much the same.

Yes as a Labour Party PPC Im tribal in that I belong to a specific political party and that I want to be elected on its platform.
We still live in the age of first past the post here in UK parliamentary elections -  a confrontational political system where differences are exaggerated for the sake of party political posturing.

Ultimately Progressive alliances will need to happen more than currently occurs.

If we’re to take on the vested interests of not just our country but the planet – then broader, deeper progressive alliances will be needed to tackle them.

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