If there is one word that is overused during all election campaigns it is, of course, change.
And whatever the precise outcome of the general election later this year, it is now certain there will be change. That change is due not just to timetabling, polling trends or MPs' expenses, but also (as perhaps everyone except Gordon Brown now recognises) because of the disastrous state of the public finances. Ask any senior Conservative shadow minister, any backbencher, any candidate, and they will tell you that this will characterise everything a future administration will, and can, do. And that nothing else can change until public spending is brought under control, the level of borrowing has dropped dramatically, and a radical programme of reform has begun in earnest.
So what will actually be different? Assuming a Conservative government, or Conservative-led minority administration, expect a hive of activity at the Treasury as the new administration gets to grips with balancing the budget. There will certainly be an emergency budget - a 'crisis budget' as one senior Conservative has called it - within 50 days of the election. This will be genuinely different, marking the first steps along the way to overdue reform of public services. Yes, this will mean cuts, but not, if possible, to frontline services. And, yes, it means the end of government hiring consultants, the end of government holding review after costly review and, yes, the end of government paying for lobbying government.
Some of these reforms will be due to a quite different mindset among those who will be running government departments. Assuming that we will not end up in hung parliament territory, the new Conservative administration and new intake to the House of Commons will have a refreshingly different approach. Those going into government departments will have a much more pro-business perspective and will, I believe, be more commercially literate than the intakes of 1997, 2001 and 2005. They will manage their departments efficiently. They will want to consult more with the private sector on delivery of services and the interaction between business and government, and less with some of the larger charitable organisations and pressure groups that have cosied up to the current administration. Nonetheless, those expecting a wave of deregulation may look in vain. They will have to prove that deregulation will be the best way to stimulate competition, and drive innovation and consumer choice.
A recent survey on the attitudes of the next intake of Conservative parliamentary candidates tells us they unreservedly share the determination to reduce the budget deficit that their colleagues in Parliament already possess. But while no-one is denying that this is the most serious challenge facing any incoming government since 1945, the Class of 2010 is also genuinely committed to the delivery of excellent frontline services, with some of the most radical yet socially progressive policies around. Like the leadership, they view all these policies, however, through the prism of the parlous state of the public finances.
A crisis changes everything, and politics is no different. The new administration will face external challenges from the current minority SNP government in Scotland, and the impacts of the new EU president role have yet to be felt. But there is also great reason for optimism and hope: the new administration is likely to be more willing to talk to business about the strategy for UK recovery and growth, and unencumbered by the political baggage of yesteryear.
Britain is preparing for a blue future. Are you ready for it?
VIEWS IN BRIEF
- Who are your five fantasy dinner party guests from the political world?
Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi; Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius; Conservative leader of the London Assembly Andrew Boff; David Cameron; 18th-century radical politician John Wilkes.
- Predict one thing that will happen in the week running up to the election.
There will be a political rumpus about the next set of GDP figures - whatever they appear to show.
- A hung parliament: good or bad for public affairs?
A disaster for certainty, but a kaleidoscope of opportunities.