Comment: Labour and Tories are hard to tell apart

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The Independent Online
Labour and Tories are hard to tell apart

As spin-doctoring conventions go, Labour's one-day conference for business folk yesterday was hard to beat. The bevy of Labour party press officers on hand to dole out copies of speeches and generally plug the line that business can trust Tony Blair was only outdone by the extraordinary number of PR men and women in the audience. A quick count yielded 82 of them.

Throw in diplomats, trade unionists, academics and Labour MPs dragooned into turning up to make the numbers look respectable and barely half the delegates were at what might be called the cutting edge of industry and finance.

In some ways that was a shame since Labour had certainly fielded its top brass. Alongside the leader, there were no less than nine members of his shadow cabinet, including even the home affairs spokesman, Jack Straw. He was there to tell the business world what Labour would do about theft from companies and he wasn't talking about some of the latest L- Tips that have been dreamed up in the boardroom.

In other ways the low calibre of delegate was all too predictable since it was the same old fare that Labour has been serving up for the last six months - the sort of apple-pie and motherhood combination that could not conceivably cause anyone offence. Hands up all those in favour of low inflation, tight control of public spending, better education and backing for small businesses.

A few die-hards like Dixons' Sir Stanley Kalms will continue to spy reds under the bed but at this rate it is going to be difficult to insert a cigarette paper between Labour and the Tories on macro-economic policy come the election.

There will, Mr Blair tells us, be no return to penal rates of taxation and a bottom rate that would make even Ken Clarke's eyes water. There will be no question of imposing continental-style non-labour costs on Britain unless our employers want it. We cannot even be certain whether there will be a windfall tax now, while even the boardroom fat cats look like getting away with a voluntary code.

Much of business may harbour an instinctive dislike of Labour. But its difficulty on polling day may be distinguishing which party is which.