The John Lewis state
The Tory proposal for core public services to be owned and managed by "employee-owned" co-operatives contains a number of ideas rolled into one.
The two most important are:
1) organisations perform better where staff have a direct financial stake in their success or failure;
2) the role of the state should be limited to providing funds and monitoring outcomes.
This is not an example of Tory conversion to late 19th Century co-op socialism.
Although the public-sector co-ops would be "not-for-profit" in the narrow sense of not being able to bring in outside capital that could receive dividends, staff would be able to get their mits on the "financial surplus" they generate.
Most would say that a "financial surplus" is another name for profit. And outside firms with relevant skills that the co-ops need could be rewarded with a share of revenues.
So the central idea is that primary schools or JobCentre Plus offices or community nursing teams would become much more productive if teachers, or job advisers or nurses knew that they would become richer from achieving more out of less.
There are two ways of seeing all this.
The Conservatives see it as liberation from the stultifying control and bureaucracy of the state.
Their hunch is that many teachers and nurses would rather work for John Lewis - where a good year yields a de facto bonus for all - than for the faceless man in Whitehall.
Others will fear it is another nail in the coffin of a public-service ethos.
On the practicalities, I am slightly unclear about what would happen to one of these new co-ops that turned out to be lousy.
If a John Lewis style primary school were a floperoo, would all the teacher-shareholders be sacked, or only the head?
A resolution procedure for failing co-ops that didn't harm pupils - or patients of community nursing teams - would plainly be essential.
And what about the power structure within each co-op.
Would all co-op members have identical shares and equal votes on strategy and management?
Some headteachers, for example, would find such democracy profoundly uncomfortable.
Or would there be a boss or senior management team, who would have both management control and the potential to pocket the bulk of any financial gains?
The background to all of this - of course - is that revenues for public services will be under pressure for many years, as a result of the shocking state of the public finances.
For the looming general election, there are few more important debates than how public services can deliver more out of less.