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This is not so much a Tory manifesto as a Californian manifesto

Picture 3 "Yes, together we can do anything," the Conservative Manifesto's foreword concludes.

As the Third Marquess of Salisbury used to say.

Or rather, as he didn't.

I mention Robert Cecil for a reason.  This must be the most un-Tory manifesto ever published by the Party.  It would have astounded that bleak, frowning, gloomy-bearded Victorian statesman. It's altogether lacking in the sense of evolutionary caution, of politics as the art of the possible, of the fragility of public affairs, and of the frailty of human endeavour that, not so long ago, coloured the lifeblood of the Conservative Party.

Consider this: "Our ambition is for every adult in the country to be a member of an active neighbourhood group."  Please note: every adult.  How will voters find the time?  After all, they'll be too busy taking over schools, forming co-operatives to run hospitals, organising their own single budgets if ill long-term, sacking MPs in recall ballots, electing police commissioners, voting in local referendums, undertaking national citizenship service, and monitoring government spending on-line to do very much else at all.

This is not so much a Tory manifesto as a Californian manifesto - so much so that it actually boasts a snap of Silicon Valley.  It has Steve Hilton's fingerprints all over it.  If enacted, it will make government under David Cameron an invigorating business.  The state will be smaller.  But it will also be louder.  It won't walk away from civil society, but instead will, in the manifesto's words "agitate for, catalyse and galvanise" for change.  If you doubt it, have a look at the action it pledges against firms that encourage the commercialisation of childhood.  If elected, Cameron will use Number 10 as a bully pulpit.

No-one who actually reads the manifesto and absorbs the detail will be able airily to say afterwards that there's no difference in this election between the main parties.  Sure, most people won't read it.  If they haven't already made up their minds, they'll go to the polls asking if they can bear four more years of Brown, or whether they can really trust Cameron.  Or they'll plump for whoever they think is likely to make a fist of running the economy.  But manifestos are important in other ways.  They reveal much about the approach, temper and tone of the parties that publish them.

This one marries the modernising spirit of Margaret Thatcher to society rather than the economy.   It's partly Hannan and Carswell as well as Cameron and Hilton.  It's transatlantic in its can-do spirit - and is another sign, were one needed, of the Americanisation of British politics.  If its vision is deemed too radical, what does that say about the voters?  Will they want to leap at the chance of transforming their country…or roll over and go back to sleep?

Paul Goodman


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