In a private seminar this month a Downing Street policy analyst claimed voters want not just the traditional security of peace and prosperity, but reassurance in the face of relentless social change.
Tony Blair gave a hint of the scale of the problem at his monthly press conference yesterday. When he tries to tackle long term problems "it is a real hassle because people will mis-describe your policy. You get scare stories ... it's difficult but once you have actually done it and got through, if you have improved the situation ... that's leadership," he said.
His senior aide was more candid. Officials believe they are handling an electorate in "a difficult transitional teenage state, unwilling to be governed by its elders, but not yet possessing the capacities, processes or institutions to take responsibility for their own lives". Britons as a result are "a conflicted population getting richer, but not happier, with more money to spend, but not sure what to spend it on, or how to make themselves happy with that expenditure".
Some demands are impossible to reconcile. The No 10 official characterised the problem as: "I want to drive my car, but I don't like global warming. I don't want any more people living in my village, but I want my son and daughter to be able to afford a house."
I must say that in the light of what I observed during a recent spell of jury service in the Crown Court, I'm inclined to agree with some of these perceptions. There is some kind of reality block operating in British society now.
And in spite of the "Britons getting richer" line pushed by the government, the real, glaring problems of social inequality and exclusion, of poverty and ethnic discrimination, are largely swept under the carpet. A Britain that has lost its self-image and sense of identity still tries selectively to cling to safe and reassuring patterns and attitudes of the past, even though that past has long ago disappeared. The result is that the old, traditional British "common sense" has become an empty consensus that's essentially sterile. There's a vacuum waiting to be filled, and that is possibly a dangerous development: not a good omen for the future.