This was the week when the Conservatives finally started to get it right. After several false starts, disastrous poster campaigns and tragicomic errors, an agenda is now emerging. Handled properly, it could win David Cameron the majority he so badly needs — and rapidly undo the damage of the Labour years.
Mr Cameron said on Monday that the next election would not be about transferring power from Labour to the Tories, but from government to the people. In an era when voters do not trust politicians of any hue, it is a powerful message. It could sound like a Barack Obama cliché were it not backed by something concrete. Mr Cameron proposes to allow as many public sector workers as possible to put together what is, in effect, a management buyout: taking over and running the services they offer. They would work as independent units, under contract from the state, and reinvesting any profit which they make through efficiencies.
It is an extension of what is, by some margin, the best Tory policy: Michael Gove’s plan to let new independent schools open and be paid by the state for every pupil they educate. Standing on doorsteps saying that the Tories will increase the Department of Health’s budget prompts only blank stares and a good dollop of suspicion. Tell a parent that their child will have the choice of attending an independent school in their neighbourhood for free — as the Tories are offering — and suddenly you start to capture people’s imaginations. It is affordable, too, if the £5,500 now spent educating each child goes instead to a school of a parent’s choice. Those who want but cannot afford independent education have two options: win the lottery or vote Conservative.
Extending this idea across more public services, the Tories can say that patients would be allowed to take the (soaring) cost of their NHS operation anywhere, even abroad.