Election '97: One Nation values stage timely comeback

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Indy Politics
FThe return of John Major's Conservative Party to the One Nation fold is signalled in yesterday's manifesto. In 1992, the Prime Minister chose to adopt the Thatcherite creed of slim government, low taxes and personal prosperity. In 1997, he has taken a more mellow tone.

Yesterday's offering uses the language of social responsibility and community values. While a commitment to the market economy runs strongly through it, the reader's mind is thrown back to an earlier brand of Conservatism.

An emphasis on security and stability in the economy and in support for families is linked to the suggestion that this in "in the best Conservative tradition". In his foreword to The Best Future for Britain, the 1992 manifesto, Mr Major writes: "Our aim is to spread opportunity for all to succeed, whoever they are and wherever they come from, provided they are prepared to work hard. To turn the 'have nots' into the 'haves.' To support the family in providing security and stability."

At yesterday's press launch, he went further, saying that "in the tradition of One Nation Conservatism", his party would bring wealth and welfare, hand in hand.

In 1992, the Conservative manifesto included a section on "the route to lower taxes," which underlined the need for "hard work, ingenuity, thrift and willingness to take risks." Although this year's also emphasises the need for lower taxes, it adds that Conservatives would "continue to spend more on the services which matter most to people - hospitals, schools and the police".

The family did not merit a chapter heading in 1992, but in 1997 it gets four-and-a-half pages. Pledges, including a desire for tax cuts, share ownership, higher thresholds for inheritance tax and stricter regulation of social services, are all placed in the context of helping families.

"The family is the most important institution in our lives. It offers security and stability in a fast-changing world," the manifesto says.

While the 1992 manifesto's first chapter created a vision of Britain as a major player on the world stage, the 1997 manifesto emphasises living standards instead.

In 1992, our role in the European Community was writ large on page three. This year it is relegated to page 45.

In 1992, the manifesto boasted that the Conservatives had "ensured that Britain is at the heart of Europe; a strong and respected partner."

In 1997 the tone has changed. Although Britain has much to gain from its membership of the European Union, the nation state must be preserved.

In 1992, the nightmare vision of a Labour Britain portrayed in the Conservative manifesto was one of strife and of strikes. In 1997, the alternative sounds less frightening. "Stakeholding" would load costs on business and "devolution" would mean breaking up the country.

Even for Mr Major, it seems, the demons of 1970s' Socialism seem to have have receded slightly.