Not even Paine could make Cameron a progressive

David Marquand is wrong to suggest that reading Thomas Paine could transform the Tory leader into a

I blogged last week about Thomas Paine's influence on Barack Obama, noting that the man once dismissed by Theodore Roosevelt as a "filthy little atheist" had been quoted several times by the US president.

In today's Guardian, David Marquand appears to suggest that Paine's revolutionary works could inspire David Cameron to undertake a thorough overhaul of Britain's archaic constitution.

Would a close reading of Common Sense or Rights of Man motivate the Tory leader to become a "true progressive" as Marquand hopes?

Cameron has previously cited Tony Benn's Arguments for Democracy as one of the books that triggered his interest in politics, so there's no reason why Paine couldn't make it on to his next summer reading list.

But less promisingly, Benn's text, which advances a number of Paine-type arguments for the abolition of the monarchy and hereditary peers as well as the disestablishment of the Church of England, seems to have had remarkably little influence on Cameron's politics.

I'm rather less optimistic than Marquand that Paine -- who famously declared that hereditary rule was "as absurd as a hereditary mathematician, or a hereditary wise man" -- could succeed where Benn failed.

Cameron has repeatedly made it clear that the removal of the remaining hereditary peers from the House of Lords is very much a second-order issue for his party.

As for Marquand's suggestion that Cameron could capture the "spirit of Milton and Paine", is he really suggesting that the Tory leader could take up the "good old cause"?

At a time when the Conservative Party has aligned itself with some of the most reactionary forces in Europe and Cameron has adopted the arguments of deficit hysterics, Marquand's contribution is sadly misguided.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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