Conservative leader David Cameron has deliberately distanced himself from the purist economic policies of Margaret Thatcher, promising to weld a "sense of responsibility" onto the unfettered "spirit of enterprise" of the 1980s.
In an extraordinary email exchange with the Observer's Will Hutton, Cameron offers the clearest picture yet of his philosophy of "compassionate conservatism," rejecting "statism" as the way to fix the credit crisis, and instead promising to change the culture in which businesses operate.
Cameron said he has "a vision for the country that connects the economy, society and the environment, and which aims to bring a new sense of responsibility to all three".
He says his new approach contrasts both with the "booster capitalism" of the past decade, but also, in a telling phrase that will infuriate the committed Thatcherites who still inhabit parts of the party, "it's a change from the 1980s, when we rightly had the spirit of enterprise, but on which we now need to build the sense of responsibility".
Thatcher's administration was responsible for tearing down the capital controls and other regulations that constrained the activities of the City of London, in a deregulatory spree that was continued by New Labour after 1997.
Like the Republicans in the US, Cameron's party has struggled to set out a coherent response to a crisis resulting from the excesses of global finance. Before the credit crunch broke, he and shadow chancellor George Osborne were focused on environmental tax reform, and other issues which have since been swept away by the crisis.
Cameron's recent decision to bring Kenneth Clarke back into his frontbench team to shadow the business secretary, Lord Mandelson, was widely regarded as an attempt to bring a more heavyweight approach to economic policymaking.
Hutton urges the Conservative leader to embrace Keynesian economics and accept that financial markets have "delinquent propensities for speculation" and must be kept under firmer control.
Cameron acknowledges that Keynes had "many good ideas, in particular his emphasis on the dangers of the contraction in credit".
But he rejects Hutton's call for a re-regulation of financial markets, instead laying out a range of policies which he says will help to "lead change by changing the culture, and yes, the legal and regulatory frameworks within which people and businesses operate," from giving the Bank of England new powers to control the level of credit in the economy, to persuading the private sector to build a new high-speed railway to link the north and south of the country.
Gordon Brown was in the Swiss ski resort of Davos yesterday at the annual gathering of business leaders and policy-makers. And in the government's latest attack on the crisis, Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, will this week give details of how he will spend £50bn of taxpayers' money in the latest desperate attempt to get credit flowing again in the recession-hit economy.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017