So where is the alternative government?

Thoughtful Observer column by will Hutton.

The essence of democracy is alternative governments. After 13 years of New Labour, the country is ready for change. But the question it will and must ask is whether David Cameron’s Conservatives are the answer to Britain's problems. To jump from the frying pan into the fire would be stupid. Brown, like the tortured heroes of Shakespearean tragedies, is complex: he has strengths that partly compensate for his all too obvious flaws. One strength is that he is assembling an array of policies that are right. This, along with his astonishing tenacity, makes it so hard for his party to junk him. And here's the rub. The country may find it has the same difficulty.

One of the Conservative party’s problems is that it does not have the intellectual, political and philosophical wind at its back and it has no surefooted sense of what it should do as the economic and social crisis unfolds. Thus Boris Johnson’s London mayoralty in which little positive has been done. As somebody close to him acknowledged admiringly to me, Boris is the classic Tory. It is as important to occupy power, so denying its use to others, as to do anything constructive with it. That may excite Tory camp followers; others may feel that the point of power is to use it.

The size of the prospective budget deficit has given the Tory leadership a new confidence. The Conservatives’ task is to do what comes naturally: to take an axe to public spending and the regulatory arms of government like OfCom or the Financial Services Authority that displease the Tories’ natural constituencies, whether Rupert Murdoch or a stage army of City traders. Yet under Adair Turner, the FSA has begun to get serious about insider trading, investment banker bonuses and the structure of banks’ business models. Just as it gets its act together, it is to be disbanded and its powers handed to what City minister Paul Myners calls the “bookish” Bank of England, whose record of both spotting asset price bubbles and handling bank crises is dire. Thinking City people concerned about the dominance of speculative finance are shaking their heads in disbelief. Equally, Sky’s competitors and many consumers are no less dismayed that a champion of competition is to be abolished.