No wonder the Tories like common sense so much: it amounts to little more than refusing to think

As someone who has always been told off for possessing little common sense, I cannot get that excited about a revolution based on this much over-rated commodity. Indeed, it means as much to me as "the radical centre" - ie, zilch. Revolutions are supposed to get the heart going, aren't they? Revolutionaries are romantic figures who are so driven by ideological passion that they don't care what anyone else is thinking. Common sense, however, usually means the lowest common denominator - a PhD in the bleedin' obvious.

Common sense is what you pride yourself on when you don't have too much else to fall back on. I grew up in a working-class household where common sense was valued far above education. Those who were, in the old phrase, "too clever by half" were thought only to possess book-learning and were probably useless when it came to anything practical. This was what we were told and what we told ourselves. Common sense kept my mother in her place, though it didn't work for me. I am not dewy-eyed about class. I despise the deliberate stupidity of the working class as much as the narrow-mindedness of the middle class. But both are bound together by this inane belief in common sense, which often amounts to little more than refusing to think about anything.

No wonder William Hague is so enamoured of the term. His warmed-up Thatcherism, filched from Canada, is a long way from the "compassionate" stuff served up by the likes of George W Bush in America. Bush with his budget surplus is able to throw money into education, speak Spanish and promote minorities at the same time as tightening up abortion laws and putting more and more people in prison. It has been left to Ann Widdecombe to stick in a few more liberal and interesting policies; and when Widdecombe comes over as your token liberal you really need to worry.

Hague's problem is that what constituted common sense in Thatcher's day has shifted dramatically. The unfettered free market does not take care of everyone, as those with common sense once said it would. It produces winners - and losers who make life miserable for winners.

Some Tories still don't know what has happened to them or what to do with themselves. They have immense sympathy for victims of crime because, deep down, they feel that they, too, have been robbed. Blair has taken the ground from beneath their feet. He has knocked old common sense on the head and proved that he and his government can manage the economy and be tough.

Hague's common sense, though, is actually as vague as the "forces of conservatism" that made Blair seem so weird, weird, weird in Brighton. For example, common sense tells us that people in general support marriage. Yes, they do. We still get married, even if we get divorced. We believe in this idea, while, as a society, also being more relaxed and accepting of marital breakdown.

There is no going back on that, just as there is no going back on the presence of women in the workplace; though not, it seems, in the Tory party. The restructuring of the world of work demanded by global shifts has affected family life enormously, and bleating about common sense will not make globalisation go away. The Tories look small-minded in such a world, their policies all about taking away rather than giving. Their attempt, then, to rewrite right-wing ideology as common sense is understandable. I would say that common sense is by its very nature conservative with a small "c".

For common sense usually tells what cannot be done rather than what can. Common sense would never have led to the discovery of DNA or the invention of the Internet. Common sense relies on gut reaction, not counter-intuitive imagination. Common sense presents itself as timeless truth, when it is always, as Antonio Gramsci argued, a highly contested area. No wonder Hague is anxious to claim it. In some ways, I suppose, this is what Blair was attempting to do, too - to push forward ideas of equality out from the margins and into the centre - in order that we redefine common-sense ideas about what a Labour government should do.

No wonder, then, that Blair got himself in such a muddle, getting too personal when we need him to be more political. His speech was explained to me as part of him getting in touch with the more female side of himself. Oh really? He must believe God is a woman, then.

None the less, he was talking about a bigger picture than anything we have seen presented to us by the Tories. New Labour is the party of modernity in a way that it is difficult for the Tories to challenge. Hague should be careful about that word "revolution", just as Blair must stop saying "radical", unless he means it. A radical party, should one exist, would rally against the "forces of common sense", just as it would take on the extreme dullness of so much politics at the moment. I have rarely read anything so profoundly depressing as the Conservative guide to Blackpool, for example. In an attempt to liven it up, there are "20 things you may not know about Brian Hanson, the conference chairman". I don't know the first thing about him, such as who he is. But to the question, "If you could place one item of legislation on the statute book - what would it be?", he answers: "To ban body-piercing". Wow! The revolution of common sense takes no prisoners.

Blair may be an over-sharer, but at least he thinks big. Is there anything more petty, more soul-destroying, more totally underwhelming than common sense?

The writer is a columnist on the "Mail on Sunday"

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