Focus on marriage
So, we're off.
Welcome to the first skirmish of the long long election campaign which began when Gordon Brown became prime minister. No, don't stop reading. This argument has the benefit of being about something that really matters. That something is the "Broken Society" - that's the new catchphrase for the proposition that having mended the British economy politicians have watched as our society has shattered.
The Tory policy review out today blames five evils - family breakdown, addiction (to drugs, alcohol and gambling), poor education, welfare dependency and failed education. The language is a self conscious re-working of Beveridge - the founder of the welfare state. The message is that that the welfare state has all too often made things worse rather than better - whether through a benefit system that makes it too easy to stay out of work or a drugs policy that gives addicts their next fix.
Today's focus will, though, be on marriage. To reduce this to a debate about whether getting hitched is good or bad is too trite. In truth mainstream politicians do not disagree about this. Most subscribe to the view that the evidence shows that marriage is - in most cases - more stable than cohabitation and that two parents are - in most cases - better than one.
Of course, there are plenty of exceptions ranging from the good - lone parents who give their all to their kids - to the bad - abusive fathers who beat their children. However, these examples do not challenge the basic premise.
Gordon Brown has ordered ministers not to engage in an argument about whether marriage is better or worse. That's why the exceptionally bright minister Ed Miliband got into a bit of a tangle on the Today programme this morning when asked just that. The argument is really about the best priorities for spending taxpayers' money and whether governments can or even should signal the way people should lead their lives.
The Tories propose a transferable tax break for married couples as a "signal" of society's approval for marriage. Labour point out that a tax break for all married couples would either cost a lot or give couples very little. It would also only benefit those whose income is high enough to pay tax and where one parent earns very little. Better, they say, to help children regardless of what their parents do and focus help on the poorest.
The Tories will find it easier to make the case for reforming the benefit system. Labour's former welfare minister Frank Field has recently argued that it sends perverse signals about how people should lead their lives. The premiums for single parents in fact represent a "couples' penalty" by making people better off if they separate. This is a problem which John Hutton - the minister in charge until a couple of weeks ago - has himself acknowledged.
Today's report tries to avoid the trap of robbing lone parent Peter to pay for married Paul. The result though is that it comes with a bill attached of over ÂŁ6 billion which it claims can be paid for by a tougher and more efficient welfare system. Sounds too good to be true. Someone somewhere will have to lose if others are to gain. These are the choices politicians - and ultimately voters - have to make and it's an illusion to think that any of them come value free.