THE Conservatives last night set their election sights on winning the votes of 2.5m ''pebbledash people'' in marginal seats as William Hague pledged a future Tory government to a public service revolution akin to Margaret Thatcher's reform of the trade unions.

Like Mondeo man and Worcester woman of the last general election, Tory strategists have identified a key group which they feel, if won over, would put Mr Hague in 10 Downing Street.

As the name implies, they are middle-income families who live in pebbledashed 1930s semi-detached houses. They are found in around 180 marginals, mainly in the Midlands.

A Tory party spokesman said the target seats operation would form an important part of the party's election campaign but added that the label ''pebbledash people'' was ''not part of official language''.

''They've been given other names like Mondeo man, but they're always the same people: voters in three-bed semi-detached houses.''

The pebbledashers are likely to receive phone calls from a team of 60 Tory volunteers, detailing key pledges on law and order, health, and education in the run-up to the election, expected on May 3. It was these subjects which last night formed the core of Mr Hague's speech to the right-wing think-tank Politeia in London.

He pledged ''the most ambitious programme of public service reform since the creation of the modern welfare state''.

The Tory leader referred to a ''second supply side revolution'' following the Thatcher economic reforms of the 1980s, cutting bureaucracy in teaching, the police, and the NHS. He condemned the government for an obsession with target-setting and an explosion in red tape.

Schools, he said, had received more than 1000 publications and regulations since 1997, including 140 circulars in the first six months of 2000. ''It defies common sense to set vast numbers of targets which have more to do with news management than the provision of services.'' He claimed Labour's primary school pledge that no five, six or seven-year-old should be in a class of more than 30 had actually led to an increase in class sizes in secondary schools, while the NHS waiting list promise had distorted clinical priorities while patient care suffered.

Insisting the Tories were ''fully committed'' to public services, Mr Hague said they would strip the NHS and the comprehensive school system of their monopolies and introduce competition and diversity

He ran through a string of Tory policies which, he claimed, would ''contribute to a revival of community'' in Britain. On education, there was the ''free schools'' policy where headteachers would be free to select as many pupils as they liked, set discipline policies, and decide pay rates.

On health, there was the ''patient's guarantee'' where patients would be given a maximum waiting time based on their need. On crime, regulation and paperwork would be cut to allow for more policemen on the beat.

Last night, Andrew Smith, chief secretary to the treasury, dismissed Mr Hague's words as not a commitment to public service reform but to privatisation. ''The Tories,'' he argued ''would cut deep into vital public services like education, health, transport, and the police.''

l Election spending was yesterday capped at nearly #15m as ministers attended a cabinet meeting to thrash out finer details of Labour's manifesto. Jack Straw, home secretary, published a sliding scale of cash that may be spent after the political parties, elections and referendum act comes into force on February 16.

Target voters:

Pebbledash people: Some 2.5m voters living in 180 marginal seats, mainly in the Midlands and the north-west of England. Many live in 1930s-style pebbledashed semi-detached houses.

Mondeo man: Created after Tony Blair, during the 1997 campaign, came across a man washing his Mondeo car. A 30s-something middle-income homeowner who was the bedrock of Labour's election victory.

Sierra man: The lifelong Tory voter whom Labour targeted as a switcher.

Worcester woman: Targeted by the Tories and replaced Essex man (sometimes dubbed Basildon nan), who had become a lost cause for John Major in 1997.

Florida woman: Replaced Worcester woman. More affluent, who regularly holidayed in the sunshine state.