3 MAY 1997, Page 6


If Labour wins the election, Britain will come nowhere


DESPITE recent signs of strain, the Tory party has behaved better during this elec- tion campaign than might have been feared. Lord Saatchi is not happy with Dr Mawhin- ney, while Dr Mawhinney is feeling slighted by No. 10; both of them have been foolish enough to let the newspapers know. But there is nothing new about conflict between the party's hierarchy and its advertising agency. It has happened at some stage dur- ing every election from 1979 onwards, most notably in 1987, when David Young and Norman Tebbit almost came to blows.

But there is one difference. Despite wob- bles, those previous campaigns were all ulti- mately victorious. This time, the battle over advertising strategy appears to be the first skirmish in a wider conflict, due to begin in the small hours of Friday morning and set to embroil the entire party. It has, there- fore, depressed morale to a greater extent than previous outbreaks did. That said, the mood in Central Office is surprisingly good; there is much less recrimination than there was in 1992.

There have been two election campaigns over the past six weeks. The first is the one recorded in the polls which, with one exception, have promised a swing to Labour on a scale hitherto achieved only in by-elections. But there is also the campaign on the doorstep, with equally unprecedent- ed levels of indecision. That is why the out- come is still in doubt, even though there are only hours to go before the polling booths open. There is only one point on which we can be certain: a majority of those who vote will do so without enthusiasm.

That will not worry Tony Blair, who had nothing to gain from the campaign; his position could only worsen. One can only admire the ruthless discipline with which Mr Blair and his party have stuck to the spin doctors' script: keep smiling, keep repeating the slogans, do not make mis- takes. If in doubt, say nothing — or, more recently, tell lies.

Tony Blair knows that a re-elected Con- servative government would neither scrap the old age pension nor abolish the NHS. So does every senior figure in the Labour party, as do all reputable commentators. But this will not worry Mr Blair. He told his lie in order to frighten the old and the sick, and he may have succeeded.

Mr Blair is not alone in his deceitfulness; there have been several similar cases among the post-war Left. But in one respect, he is unique. With Wilson, Mitter- rand, Trudeau and even Clinton, the lying was never reinforced by constant protesta- tions of personal piety. But it seems to have worked: the road to No. 10 could now lie open to Mr Blair. If so, he would have a further claim to uniqueness. No opposition would ever have won an election after such a minimal scrutiny of its programme; no new government could ever have taken office with such widespread confusion about its intentions.

It is hardly surprising that the commenta- tors have so little idea of what a Blair gov- ernment would actually do. There is no rea- son to suppose that Mr Blair himself is any the wiser. The Blairites often talk about their 'project', which is meant to sound grand and to imply that behind all the soundbites there is a certain idea of Britain. But they have never provided the least infor- mation as to what that project might be.

The Spectator can now remedy that defi- ciency. We can exclusively reveal the Blair project in all its detail and glory. It is called project re-election. Mr Blair has played down talk of that relic of Wilsonian bogus- ness, a first 100 days, but we can also reveal that he is being too modest. The plans are already prepared for Mr Blair's first 100 days. Long before they are over, the new focus groups will have been established, the opinion polling will be gathering momen- tum and the fast new slogans will already be in use. A few days ago, Tony Blair was asked about Bill Clinton; the questioner expected the Labour leader to distance himself. Not so: Mr Blair merely reminded the interviewer that Mr Clinton was re- elected. Apart from a facile invocation of John MacMurray — an attempt to give his own ethical platitudes some scholarly antecedents — Mr Blair has never shown any interest in ideas or in history. But he does know one thing about modern history: Bill Clinton won a second term.

Last Sunday, Mr Blair tried to reassure the Left, telling it in the Observer that 'if we win this election, we will have done so with- out ceding any ground that cannot be recovered.' But he was no more telling the truth than he was over pensions or the NHS; it was yet another exercise in poll- driven duplicity. Mr Blair knows that many high-minded lefties are so revolted by the cynicism of his campaign that they might either abstain or vote Lib Dem. Some of them have been trying to reassure one another, either that he has been economis- ing with the truth during the campaign and would be more radical once the votes were in, or that the rest of his party would force him to be so. The Observer interview was a nod and wink in this direction. But the left- ists would be unwise to believe him. If he wins office, Mr Blair's domestic pro- gramme will be shaped, not by radicalism, but by the opinion polls.

On the face of it, that should not alarm middle Britain, much of which would be happy to settle for Whig men and Tory measures. Except when talking to the Observer, Mr Blair is happy to convey the impression that Thatcherism is safe in his hands. That is further mendacity.

There are three crucial aspects in which a Blair government would squander its Thatcherite inheritance. The first concerns public resources. It is not enough to control government spending; it is also essential to ensure that the spending is effective. Think how much better off we would all be if every pound dispensed on our behalf by the government was as usefully employed as a pound we spend on our own behalf at Tesco's or Sainsbury's. After a slow start, this government is succeeding in raising the quality of public spending, largely because of privatisation, market testing and other means of enforcing higher standards. A new set of ministers, in thrall to the public sector trade unions, would send all that in reverse.

The second is competitiveness. Britain is now in a stronger position to respond to the challenges of economic globalisation than at any time since the war. But marginal losses in competitiveness can have a dramatic effect on outcomes — and the damage which Euro-regulation could inflict is more than marginal. There is nothing Thatcherite about the social chapter.

The third and greatest danger from Blairism would threaten more than the Thatcherite inheritance. Mr Blair says he wants a new Britain; if his constitutional proposals were implemented, we would end up with an ex-Britain. Back in 1979, Saatchi's came up with a powerful slogan, which Mrs Thatcher for some reason vetoed (there were disagreements in those days, too). 'Five years ago, Labour won the elec- tion, Britain came second.' If Labour wins this election, Britain will come nowhere.