For the first time in more than a decade, people are scrutinising Conservative policy. People are considering what the Tories would be like in government.
But not a government with a small majority, humbly nurturing a consensus. Britain may yet face a huge Tory majority, brazenly Thatcherite.
This led to a muddle in the past two weeks when shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley told the Health Service Journal that next year’s NHS budget would be cut if the Conservatives won the election. This was followed by a clumsy rebuttal, again from Lansley, saying NHS budgets are safe but other departments will see ten per cent cuts across the board.
Also this week the Conservatives have announced that they will cut school testing and ID cards. Both measures are calculated to bite into Labour’s liberal left base but they leave the Tories vulnerable among the Daily Mail-reading middle Englanders, who rather like ID cards and school tests.
To Labour, this sends a clear signal. The Conservatives feel they have in the bag the middle England they need to win a small majority. Now they are moving on to Labour’s turf, where they can go for a large majority. But whatever messages of caring Conservatism they need to express before the election, a large majority will also mean a large number of newly elected, unreconstructed Thatcherites on the backbenches.
Without wanting to sound like a party political broadcast, the Tory agenda in government will be as follows: restrict abortion rights; bring back fox hunting; detachment from Europe; acceleration of NHS privatisation; voucher schemes for school places and public service cuts. In addition, they will devolve power to a Tory dominated English Parliament and conduct a boundary review for Westminster.
It’s good for Britain that the Conservatives have had to start talking about policy before the election, something they have avoided so far. At least it will be a choice.