Dave was his usual slick self as he launched their manifesto. Picking up on the thrust of Labour's recent pronouncements, this was about seizing ownership of security from the opposition. Perhaps unexpectedly they played on their "success" fighting terrorism by listing the number of hate preachers kept out of Britain, the success of foiling plots - which handily cannot be addressed in detail due to security concerns, and standing up to ISIS and their ilk. However, one line that seemed to have missed the eager eyes of the assembled press pack is allowing the police to circumvent the Crown Prosecution Service and make decisions about to prosecute. Complementing "Beria" May, Dave laid on thick the security theme - the Tories had a stable economy, a plan for the deficit, "sensible savings", tax cuts, a guaranteed public spending surplus by 2018 all underpinned by, of course, that long-term economic plan. To be fair, there were elements of an industrial strategy here. Osborne's talk of the "northern powerhouse", road building, high speed rail, the spread of technical colleges and a splurge on apprenticeships, the Tories have belatedly woken up to the state having a role in shepherding the economy.
Then there were the eye-catching policies. To take the first 30 hours of the minimum wage earners out of tax is merely their raising of the basic threshold, repackaged. Much more interesting was the pledge of 30 hours free childcare. We don't know the details yet, but it's unlikely to be available to parents who do not work full-time. Nevertheless it is very attractive and would make a massive difference to anyone who pays through the nose for nursery care. I'm surprised the Tories haven't made more of it. But the big headline grabber was, of course, their right-to-buy pledge. This is incredibly stupid for all kinds of reasons. Even right wing journos like Julia Hartly-Brewer dub it "economically illiterate and morally wrong". However, it's clear what the Tories are trying to do. In their typical dumb way, because right-to-buy was popular among council tenants back in the 80s, the hope is that enough people renting housing association homes will vote Tory as a means of getting themselves on the housing ladder. It was a transparent move by Thatcher to try and social engineer a bloc of working class Tory voters. It made little difference. The bulk of tenants who became home owners took the opportunity but didn't change their voting habits. Then again, the Tories are desperate for something - anything - to turn their electoral fortunes around. Except this time, their clever-clever logic might bite them on the bum. There are a layer of usually loyal Tory voters attracted to the party because of their (undeserved) reputation for careful economics and "responsible" approach to public spending. Policies like this nonsense put their key reputational asset into question.
Then what are the Tories playing at? Is it hidden genius? Is it panic? Is it cluelessness? It's worse than all three, it's pure cynicism. Dave and Osborne know a majority government eludes them. They've seen the scenarios, they know that the permutations of Labour-led coalitions or Labour minorities are against the Conservatives perhaps ever forming a government again - at least under First Past the Post. So they're throwing everything out there. It doesn't matter that their spending splurge is almost entirely uncosted. The Tory hope is that a largely uninformed public will pick up on the NHS, tax cuts, and right-to-buy pledges, won't be party to the "wonkish" conversation of politicos and journalists, and come election day shall unthinkingly place their cross in the Conservative box. If that is their hope, they can expect to have it dashed.