The Tories are back. Labour’s love affair with power and business has laid the basis for what is presented as a changed Conservative Party.
But the apparent changes are simply spin. Tory leader David Cameron has been rummaging in Tony Blair’s bag of tricks – he smiles a lot and says nothing.
Cameron has managed to put himself forward as the voice of change, even though most of his party’s policies remain the same nasty attacks on ordinary people.
The Conservative Party is the bosses’ preferred mechanism for running the country.
New Labour may have spent much effort becoming a pro-boss party, but the Tories have always been one. It is the only reason for their existence.
The Tories’ unwritten aim is to defend inequality – to preserve the social and economic unfairness inherent in a capitalist economy.
There are 32 people in the Tory shadow cabinet. Of these 18 attended private schools, 20 went to Oxbridge – and 18 are millionaires.
They will play with their policies and positions in order to gain power, but will always govern in the interests of the rich.
During his victory speech after being elected leader in 2005, Cameron came out with the Blair-like soundbite, “There is such a thing as society, but it is not the same as the state.”
This is an echo of Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as society” that sounds softer but leads to the same conclusions.
Clearly, Cameron’s opposition to the welfare state did not begin with the recession.
Since Cameron has been leader, he has had the advantage of a Labour Party in disarray.
It is Labour’s slavish devotion to the free market that has enabled the Tories to turn a crisis of the profiteers of the banks and business into proposed cuts to the supposedly “bloated” public sector.
The Tory spin is that the welfare state won’t be dismantled from on high, but will be reformed by dissatisfied patients and parents as the state is opened up.
The Tories have had to use many dubious slogans in the defence of inequality.
Once they spoke of “fairness”, now they prefer words like “choice” and “progressive”.
The underlying reality is simpler. As the Tory magazine the Spectator put it, Cameron and the Tories “have a simple agenda: to enact the sharpest spending cuts attempted in modern British history”.
The plans Cameron has admitted to are anything but “progressive”. At the Tory conference this week Cameron announced a clampdown on welfare payments and taking people off incapacity benefit.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May – the one who said the Tories should stop being the “nasty party” – is on a crusade against what she calls the “dependency culture”.
The Tories plan to take half a million people off incapacity benefit and hand the money “saved” to private welfare-to-work firms.
This will mean forced medical assessments that could end up leaving thousands of people facing the choice between unsuitable work or a massive reduction in their benefit.
The rest of the Tories’ policies are no better.
Cameron wants to cut tax on company profits even further and cut inheritance tax so rich families like his can hold on to their wealth.
On law and order, his only answer is to increase prison terms and make it easier for magistrates to throw people in prison.
On education there is much noise about discipline and a bizarre plan for people to set up their own schools, based on a scheme in Sweden.
What the Tories don’t mention very loudly is the Swedish scheme runs schools for profit.
The Tories are plotting to drive the logic of the market deeper into every part of our lives, and every aspect of public services.
The Tories’ testbed has been local councils, where they are running a live experiment in cutting jobs and services in the run up to the general election.
It is clear that cuts will fall disproportionately on social services and benefits.
And there is more ominous planning going on in the background. The Tories’ determination to take on the unions is hidden, but it’s there if you look closely.
In the Spectator last week, Cameron said, “Compare Margaret Thatcher’s trade union reforms with Ted Heath’s.
“It wasn’t that Heath’s were unambitious, it was that actually he tried to do it all at once, it blew up in his face and he had to abandon it.
“Margaret Thatcher had the ‘long runway’ approach to change. You prepare the ground, and then the aeroplane can effectively take off.”
Labour has wasted a decade-long chance to reverse Thatcher’s anti-union laws, making it that much easier for the Tories to attack their natural enemy – us.
It is one of the many indictments of Gordon Brown’s Labour government that such a shower of posh reactionaries is likely to win the next general election.