Monday 24 July 2017

Analysis: May's manifesto a triumph of common sense over ideology

Theresa May. Picture: Getty
Theresa May. Picture: Getty

Janet Daley

The crucial premise of this manifesto launch - and of the Mayism which the lady herself insists does not exist - was clearly that statement: "My mainstream government will work for mainstream Britain."

This message, she was saying, is aimed at real people who want to get on with their lives, not at political purists, ideologues or proselytisers of an arcane doctrine of the state. Most of those real people (she almost said this explicitly) do not care much for the totems of traditional debate about the size of the size and role of government. They have social values and decent instincts but not a grand theory of Society. They get irritated with what she called the "tribal" view of politics and would really prefer a government that worked for the country "as a whole."

So she was offering a deliberate pick-n-mix of policies which sometimes looked vaguely Left-wing and sometimes looked vaguely Right-wing but whose intentions seemed designed to appeal to all those working people who wanted to get on in life on their own merits. The appeal for a meritocracy was certainly out of the Thatcher hymn book, but it was carefully presented not as ruthless individualism but as a guarantee of opportunity: a country where "it matters not where you came from but where you are going".

What gave this a fresher sound as a Conservative declaration was the call for "a new contract between government and people". This seemed to consist of an admission that while it was never the case that government could be the answer to everything, it could be the answer to some things. It was, in effect, time for the Tories to accept what most real people now believed: that "government can be a force for good". This seemed to be the intent of her interesting comment that "public services are institutions that unite the country". It wasn't clear just what she meant by this: was she referring to the obvious candidate, the NHS? But it did imply that she was not in the business of simply selling off such services without considering what social and cultural impact this might have.

What she would clearly want us to conclude is that she prefers common sense decency to dogma. Her more contentious policies can certainly be read this way: most people (her "mainstream" constituency) do accept that giving the winter fuel allowances to wealthy pensioners is absurd. They would probably also agree that people sitting on very valuable properties should not expect to have poorer taxpayers paying for their social care.

Targeting benefits on those who really need them is just the sort of proposal which Mrs May would expect ordinary people with their decent instincts to endorse if a government were brave enough to make the case for it - even though such changes might disadvantage them personally. This appeal to social virtue was well-taken. Referring to the supposed war between the generations, she made a clever, flattering and absolutely correct observation that most older people are not selfish: they are as concerned about the futures of their children and grandchildren as they are about their financial assets.

It was described as a brave - even risky - departure from Conservative orthodoxy. In fact, most of what she said was designed to engage the sensibilities of socially responsible people who want to do the right thing for the "country as a whole".

What better definition is there of the traditional Tory voter?

Telegraph.co.uk

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