George Osborne revives ideology

I sat in the front row at Demos this morning for shadow chancellor George Osborne’s speech to the think tank (I’m an associate of Demos). Osborne was personable and relaxed. His speech was intelligent and fluently delivered. The man’s a natural. Much that he said was also rather persuasive (but this isn’t the blog post where I announce my conversion to the Tories). He highlighted three types of fairness: fair reward for hard work, fair access to opportunity and (interesting, this one) ‘intergenerational’ fairness.

The whole thing was couched in some proper, old-fashioned ideology: the state cannot guarantee fairness, only a free market operating within a social and legal framework can do that. Osborne made the first explicit reference I’ve heard in many years to Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and for balance he provided a reference to John Rawls (and Osborne’s phrase ‘fair equality of opportunity’ is obviously borrowed from Rawls).

I asked if these traces of ideology might mean we’re in for a bit of argy-bargy—a contest of ideas between the major parties—between now and the election. Osborne’s reply was hardly encouraging: he acknowledged that in some areas it might be difficult to tell the difference between his position and David Milliband’s, for instance. I’m hopeful, though: I’d like to see the parties taking up real positions for the next election—as an antidote to the enervating political paralysis of the Brown era.

Steve Richards has a better account of the speech in The Independent: he’s sceptical about Osborne’s approach to achieving fairness in the context of an out-of-control market.


  1. I’d also really like to understand how the market (whether out of control or not) delivers fairness. Personally, I always thought it was absolutely the role of the state to work towards fairness (but not, of course, to guarantee it) and the role of the market to bend with the wind of human desire. Osborne seems to have this arse over tit.

  2. The market as a social regulator is an illusion.
    That’s why firms deliver late IT projects, late public buildings, late exam results, and no education allowance without seeming to care.
    By the time they are found out they have made their money.
    And so few firms can compete for complicated government contracts that there is no real competiton.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *