Leading article: Consensus, not ideology

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The Independent Online

Whatever adjective might apply, the Programme for Government published yesterday is not Thatcherite. There is nothing in the 35-page document presented by David Cameron and Nick Clegg that promises to take money from the poor to give to the rich. On the contrary, there are a few items which will make painful reading for the well-off, particularly the very highly paid officials. The national minimum wage, anathema to the Tories when they were last in power, will stay. The link between earnings and state pensions, broken early in the Thatcher years, is to be restored in 2011. There are no plans for privatisation, but there is a suggestion to create a Post Office bank.

The document also promises "radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups". That financial autonomy is not going to arrive at once, however, because on the very next page of the document we read that every council in England is to be forbidden from increasing council tax this year, and possibly next. Even so, the suggestion that local government may recover some of the status and self-respect lost during the Thatcher years is to be welcomed. There is also a promise to take green issues seriously and to enshrine in legislation the commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of the nation's gross income on overseas aid.

Other parts of this diverse document read more like a Conservative manifesto. The section on relations with the EU bears the imprint of the eurosceptic Foreign Secretary, William Hague, with little evidence of a Liberal Democrat input. The section on immigration is almost exclusively about keeping people out of the UK. The Liberal Democrats' proposed amnesty for illegal immigrants is out, regrettably. Under the heading "Jobs and Welfare" there is a pronouncement that "receipts of benefits for those able to work is conditional on their willingness to work", which reflects the deep-seated Tory belief that people choose to live off benefits because they are lazy.

But overall, this is a programme for government by consensus, not by ideology. It presents a serious challenge for the next Labour Party leader, who will have to forge a distinct message without plunging into unelectability. It could also mean trouble for the Prime Minister on his already restless backbenches. The test of Mr Cameron's character will be whether he can stay true to the programme published yesterday, without buckling under pressure from his backwoodsmen.