Warning against giving the impression that the Conservative Party believed in a 'permanent cultural revolution in the style of Trotsky or Chairman Mao', Mr Hurd said: 'We must show that we are not driven by ideology to question every function of the state, to make impossible the life of our public servants, or to depreciate the worth and quality of the different public services.'
In a speech markedly different in tone from fringe meeting addresses by Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Services, and Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Hurd told the Tory Reform Group: 'We must show that we value those we rely upon to provide the service. The teacher, the nurse, the serviceman, the doctor, the postmaster, the police officer, the civil servant, are not relics . . . whom we should periodically despatch to the rice fields for thought reform and indoctrination. They are not entitled to special privileges or immunity from sacrifices, for example on pay. But they, and those whom they serve, rightly distrust any whiff of dogma which they may detect in the way governments tackle the problems of their profession.'
In a speech aimed more at the wider electorate than the hotbed atmosphere of a conference of activists, Mr Hurd said that it was all the more important to show the right balance could be struck because there was a 'general political malaise, a cynicism about politicians and political affairs' that was souring political life in most democratic countries.
That malaise tended to work to the advantage of minority parties: 'It is no surprise that in this country it should generally favour Mr Ashdown, whose confused and contradictory messages reflect all the uncertainties of voters who feel that the politicians and they themselves have lost their way.' Building on what was achieved in the 1980s did not mean looking at the problems of the 1990s with the language and ideas of the 1980s.
A speech by Mr Lilley to the Conservative Way Forward group seemed to endorse precisely that language and those ideas. He followed up Wednesday's Thatcherite speech with an equally ringing endorsement of Baroness Thatcher's 'conviction politics', and a declaration that, on social policy and on Europe, 'the tide of ideas' was still flowing powerfully in the direction of the right.
Mr Portillo attacked what he called the 'modern malaise' epitomised by the 'decades of claptrap served up by sociologists' and 'political correctness' that subverted value judgements.
He said people looked to government to do too much and felt disoriented in a society that had discarded many traditional values. 'You cannot increase the role of the state without diminishing the role for the individual. That transfer profoundly alters the way communities work.'
He said the party should stand up for the decent majority, who 'want to help the needy. They do not, however, want to help those who are better off than they are, nor those who make no effort.'