Some two and a half years ago, with a general election looming, ConservativeHome tried to stand back from the immediate fray, suspend its usual assumptions, and ask: what would be the best reason for voting Tory in 2015?
The answer we gave was not one that all our readers would share, but it was, as we put it, that “Conservative reformers are delivering Grown-Up Government”.
We cited Michael Gove’s work at Education, Iain Duncan Smith’s at Work and Pensions, Francis Maude’s Whitehall reforms, Chris Grayling’s rehabilitation work – and Theresa May’s record at the Home Office. We concluded –
“Some of these plans may fail. Others, arguably, are mistaken (though this site is usually a supporter of them). But all are unmistakably a serious attempt by serious people to deliver serious change.”
The Conservative Manifesto published yesterday represents an intensification of that spirit, and a broad, deep application of it that could scarcely be more ambitious.
Gone are the Gordon Brown-style drawing of artificial dividing lines, the debt traps, benefit caps and surplus traps of the Cameron-Osborne era: “politics is not a game”.
Vanished, too, is the sense – understandable and prudent in itself – that some challenges are too hazardous for politicians to tackle and, after cursory inspection, must speedily be returned to the Too Difficult Box.
You may be apprehensive about the effects of the Prime Minister’s Christian Democrat-flavoured politics on the unity of a previously free market-committed party, as we are.
You may, too, be troubled about some of the policies she is proposing – as we are again (consider, to take just one example, the proposed energy price cap).
But there can be no doubt that the sum of May’s manifesto is a real attempt to address directly some of the great issues of our time – an ageing population, high immigration, job insecurity, disillusion with our political system.
ConservativeHome could scarcely have asked for more. We wanted a sober plan to tackle inter-generational injustice, provide more homes, and boost the status of technical education.
The housing numbers look robust (though finding land to build on will be as hard as ever). The review of tertiary education funding suggests a rebalacing between the academic and the vocational – just what we have proposed.
There is specific reference to the size of the Lords, and some intriguing language about reviewing the honours system – to ensure that recipients “uphold the integrity of the honours bestowed”.
Above all, the language on Brexit is rock-solid. The Prime Minister has delivered on five of the six main policy priorities that we campaigned for – and on much elsewhere, such as a crackdown on electoral fraud.
The missing area is families policy. There is a very brief section on childcare for working parents, with a vague reference to examing best practice abroad. Downing Street has a blind spot where it could range more broadly.
But the biggest, boldest plans of all are for a fairer balance of power between the generations. One way of viewing May’s social care plan is that it has the potential to help drive a housing revolution.
Many older people will strive to avoid their savings, in the form of property, from falling into the hands of the state. They will surely seek to transfer its ownership to their children – or, in the last resort, sell.
This would dynamite the Treasury’s assumptions about the revenue that the plan will raise, but have the effect of exerting downward pressure on the price of housing (all other things being equal, which admittedly they seldom are).
Through a glass darkly, one can spy a Britain more like that of 50 years ago – in which houses were homes rather than also a form of saving, and in which the rise in their value did not “cascade down the generations”.
The core of the Prime Minister’s argument is that people cannot reasonably expect the taxpayer to pick up the bill for their social care when they can help meet some of it with money locked up their homes.
She is right. But this is a hazardous political enterprise, and may well have an effect on this election. Some, perhaps many, Tory voters will vote yellow or purple in protest – or simply not vote at all.
May has presumably discounted such a development. To put it crudely, she has chosen Nick Timothy over Lynton Crosby – in other words, she seems prepared to trade off a bigger majority for a wider mandate.
How the Tory press responds to what many of its readers will view as a direct attack on their interests will be crucial – at least, in terms of to what degree the broad centre-right family swings in line behind the Prime Minister.
The Daily Mail today praises “a PM who is not afraid to be honest”. The Daily Telegraph describes the Prime Minister as “reaching out to those who feel left behind”.
The Sun will be less troubled by the effect of May’s inter-generational strategy on its readers. It lauds the manifesto. The Daily Express appears to have returned home after its affair with UKIP.
The Prime Minister is still set for a clear majority in June, though the polls may wobble – which, paradoxically, would be good news for the Crosby core strategy of presenting this election as a closer call than it is.
But getting the full support of Tory MPs for her Erdington conservatism could be a lot harder. None the less, they will not dissent from the main point above. We asked for Grown-Up Government. Now we’ve got it.