Back in the same old spin cycle

Last updated at 15:02 01 September 2004

Five weeks away from the worries of high office have done nothing to reduce Tony Blair's addiction to spin.

Barely are the Prime Ministerial feet back under the desk than we see a return to leadership by gimmick - lauding the 'success' of anti-social behaviour orders and posing as the motorists' friend.

But is it any wonder Mr Blair wants to divert the political agenda from his Government's failures... the lies about Iraq... the immigration shambles... our chaotic transport system... the billions wasted on the NHS ? the increase in violent crime... and the prospect of ever higher taxes.

So there will be more of this hype and more measures designed to appeal to Labour loyalists, like anti-foxhunting legislation.

For, make no mistake, we are entering what will certainly be the longest election campaign in this country's recent history.

Mr Blair's position is strong. Despite the examples of duplicity and deceit contained in evidence to the Hutton and Butler inquiries, the bitter anger of former cronies like Greg Dyke and the failure of so many policies, Labour is neck and neck with the Tories in the polls.

However, with trust in the Prime Minister at an all-time low and the electorate in such a volatile mood, a Labour victory is not yet certain.

The tragedy is that the Tories have been far too busy squabbling among themselves and far too timid in defining the principles on which they wish to fight the next election.

In Michael Howard they have a persuasive and enormously talented leader and he has produced excellent policy ideas on, for example, schools, health passports and the need to cut public spending waste.

The Tories' instincts are right on the need to challenge the obsession with political correctness.

But they do not present their case with the gut conviction and coherence needed to win over the electorate. Take Mr Howard's plan to set up a commission to review the impact on the Human Rights Act. It doesn't need a commission to understand the cancerous effect of this piece of legislation.

Indeed all the evidence is there to let Mr Howard be much bolder and pledge that - however formidable the legal and political obstacles - a Tory government would get rid of it.

There should be an unequivocal pledge to reduce taxes, accompanied by clearly identified public spending savings that show how the cuts will be paid for.

And surely there should be a commitment to a much greater role for the private sector in health and taxation.

Earlier this year, Mr Howard spelt out his credo - that there was a moral case for lower taxation, that an all-powerful state crushes its citizens and that power must be handed back to individuals who are best equipped to spend their own money.

Hear! Hear!

But only if he can free himself from the dither and caution of recent months and deliver this message powerfully and unequivocally, can he give his party a chance of winning the next election.

A chance to vote

How the eurocrats must panic.

One by one the largest EU countries are opting for a referendum on the European constitution.

First Spain, then Britain and France. Now Germany is considering allowing its people to vote whether to sign up.

At last there is a chance that the people, not deal-cutting politicians and civil servants, will decide the future of the EU- and it will be all the stronger for having been decided by consent, not diktat.

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