Four days from today, Britain goes to the polls for the last general election before Hong Kong ceases to be a dependent territory of the United Kingdom. The chances are that the government in London responsible for the handover of power on June 30 will not be of the political party which negotiated the term of Hong Kong's return to China. Opinion polls have been wrong before, but there is little to suggest they have made a mistake this time. Nothing short of a miracle (or, depending on your point of view, a disaster) can save the Conservatives now. With so little time left before the handover, the outcome of the election will not mean much to Hong Kong, although it is possible the climate over the territory between Beijing and London could improve under a Labour government. Hong Kong has not been a place where, in the past, the Labour Party could count on much support. But, this week, it is time for a change in the government of Britain. The Tories are tired. They have run out of ideas and lost momentum. In a democratic system, 18 years is too long for one party to remain in power. John Major, the Prime Minister, retains a certain amount of personal popularity, but his party is deeply divided, particularly over Europe, and tainted by scandals and sleaze. It has not delivered on its promise to lower the tax burden, and its policies on health and education have been socially divisive even where they have been partially successful. The gap between rich and poor has widened. The homeless wander the streets. Even Mr Major's great personal achievement, the Northern Ireland peace process, has turned sour since the IRA returned to violence and murder. The Conservatives need a period in opposition to sort out their differences. That said, the long years of Conservative rule have revolutionised Britain. The changes brought in by Margaret Thatcher have fundamentally altered the country, and given an example to other nations. One of her greatest achievements has been to produce a situation in which the Labour Party has abandoned old-fashioned socialism in favour of market-based social democracy. This is why a change of government is now not to be feared by those who prize both freedom and economic growth. Tony Blair, along with his predecessors Neil Kinnock and John Smith, have progressively jettisoned the political baggage they and the party grew up with. Mr Blair's policies are, by now, indistinguishable in many fields from those of the Tory left. His party, though far from united behind him, has shifted far enough in his direction to be seen as a real party of government. For the majority of the British public, the home-owning middle classes, the Labour Party is now once again an acceptable alternative. Mr Blair is criticised for his authoritarian leadership, and his belief that power rather than ideological purity are what the party exists to achieve. But it is precisely those 'faults' which have been his greatest strengths. He has had the skill, the vision and the determination to discipline the party into an efficient machine. The men and women around him, though inexperienced in government, are able, pragmatic and in many ways technocratic. However, once in power, Mr Blair has to follow through with policies that work, without imposing new taxes on business or the middle classes as the old Labour Party would have done. He is likely to inherit a healthy economy from Mr Major, who has enjoyed little of the political credit for the recovery. Property prices are rising. There is more wealth around than for many years. But this must not lead Mr Blair to loosen the purse strings in the flush of victory. He is rightly committed to spending targets as tight as those of the Conservatives, despite some ambitious and probably costly projects. His commitment to education and banishing illiteracy from schools is as laudable as his desire to reform the constitution and devolve power to Scotland and Wales are interesting. His party must be above sleaze and he must not abandon the liberal principles of openness towards Europe and a genuine concern for the weak that still distinguish new Labour from the narrow-minded Conservative right. Mr Blair does not have to declare himself for a federal Europe, but he must not fall into the petty jingoism that has helped to demean the Tories so often. Mr Blair will discover once in power that there are no easy answers. But he richly deserves the chance to prove that he is prepared to grapple with the tough questions facing Britain, and to get them more right than the Tories have managed in recent years. Even expatriate voters who consider themselves natural Tories should be ready to consider the merits of a change at Westminster.