Nigel Farage has just shown us what a Conservative looks like

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage

Scrapping the interest on student loans. Dramatically raising the threshold paying income tax. Replacing the NHS with a French-style social insurance system, offering tax relief on independent school fees, and massively raising the inheritance tax threshold.

In some alternative universe, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would go down fighting. He would present a radical, Conservative manifesto, one which would shift the parameters of debate. Unfortunately, however, it has been left to Nigel Farage’s insurgent Reform UK to shake up the election. Sure, anyone can pick holes in some of the pledges. But this was the “contract” the Tories should have made with the people.

Reform has, without question, offered something new. In a single document, it has smashed taboos in a British policy debate that is about as lively as a drizzly Wednesday afternoon in Clacton.

Instead of incessantly raising taxes to help “rescue” our health service, it says, could we borrow some ideas from France, Germany or the Netherlands where the same amount of money buys far better treatment?

Instead of taxing parents who educate their children privately, perhaps we should recognise that since the state doesn’t have to pay for them we should offer some modest tax relief instead?

Maybe we should withdraw benefits after someone turns down two job offers, instead of tolerating a fifth of people of working age relying on state hand-outs, and almost a third in Wales?

The list goes on and on. In a whole series of areas, Reform is offering radical new ideas, learning from global rivals, and setting out a blueprint for a very different economy, state, and welfare system.

We can expect the usual commentators will dismiss it as “nutty”, “impractical”, even “electoral suicide”. It is an irony of British politics that the people who are most devoted to the EU also think it is impossible to learn anything from our neighbours across the channel, where healthcare, planning and infrastructure are often far superior, or from Asia, where tax rates are far lower.

True, some of the maths looks like it may have been written on a beer mat. Yet one point is surely clear. If Reform can get above 15 per cent on this platform, it will prove there is an appetite for real change, and not the vacuous sound-bites served up by the Labour Party.

After 14 years in office, and with a miserable track record, Sunak should have offered a bold vision that broke with the past. It would not have won him the election, so deep-rooted is the sense of betrayal many voters feel towards the Tories. But at least it would have thrown down a challenge to Starmer. At least it would have broken away from the soggy blancmange of centrist manifestos that please no one, in an election that may be more negative than any other in our history.