Election '97: It's a fight to the death

Blair lets rip as his poll lead slips; 'The election will be the last fought on ideology and politics as well' - Tony Blair yesterday

Tony Blair last night presented the voters with the "nightmare" prospect of a fifth-term Tory government, as one opinion poll showed Labour's lead slipping into single figures - reinforcing this week's Independent constituency survey findings that the election was still wide open.

Repeating the message of Monday's Labour Party election broadcast, the Labour leader said during a visit to Luton: "You can wake up on May 2 to another five years of the most discredited, sleazy government, or you can wake up to a fresh start under a new Labour government."

Reacting to the narrowing of one poll, by ICM for the Guardian newspaper, while another by Gallup for the Daily Telegraph confusingly showed Labour's lead over the Conservatives widening to 21 points - an increase of five points since last week - Labour strategists decided to unleash the dire warning of the consequences of more than 20 years of one-party rule.

Labour is warning that if the Tories are re-elected for a fifth term, the voters can expect them to slap value-added tax on food, to sell off of old people's homes, and to abolish the state pension.

"This is the fifth-term Tory threat from a re-elected Conservative government and every voter should bear this in mind when polling day comes on Thursday next week," the Labour Party's campaign manager Peter Mandelson, said earlier.

But the frighteners were also being applied by the Conservatives, too, as both main parties entered the final stages of a do-or-die campaign that will see the losing party - whether Conservative or Labour - become embroiled in internal power struggles and bitter left-right recrimination.

In a Conservative election broadcast that was transmitted last night, Labour was depicted as a party that has severed all its roots in its search for power.

The party was shown as a tree without roots - unable to stand up to the first puff of wind.

As workmen unsuccessfully try to keep the tree upright, a commentator says: "A tree without roots cannot withstand the slightest pressure. A party without roots doesn't stand for anything and doesn't stand for long ...

"Cutting off your roots and ditching your principles may make you look electable, but it's very dangerous in government."

But Mr Blair yesterday said he had been "squeezed" between forces that complained Labour was "principled but entirely unelectable" or electable but unprincipled. Presenting the possibility of an end of ideological politics, Mr Blair said at a London Press Club awards lunch that next week's election was not just the last one of the 20th century, but probably, also, the last election to be fought on the basis of ideology and politics as well".

The Labour leader said that during the late 1960s Labour had "got stuck in dogma and outdated ideology ... from which we spent the next quarter of a century escaping."

He said that the simplest way to explain what had happened was to put it in personal terms.

"In a sense, I am modern man," he said. "I am somebody of my own generation, a generation that's grown up without the tags of easy political simplicities of left and right."

The battles between public and private sectors, between the state and the market, between privatisation and nationalisation, were things of the past.

"There's nothing unprincipled about saying that. That is the honest truth about the nature of the modern world," Mr Blair said.

"New Labour is true to its values, but applies those values in a different way to today's world, that is, in fact, where British politics needs to be." While insisting that he shared the same basic values as Labour leaders of the past such as Keir Hardie, Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson, he that said he had "liberated" Labour from the old prescriptions.

Mr Blair said: "The problem is that our opponents would say, and people say, if you don't stand for the past, you stand for nothing. That is the nonsense that is at the heart of the campaign against us."

He said that the elections of the future would be fought on a completely different basis. But that did not mean that there would be no battlegrounds.

"The issues of isolationism versus internationalism will be a critical dividing line. The whole question of the idea of society versus a narrow form of individualism, how we reform the welfare state ...

"The differences will be there, and they will be real, but they won't be in the same way debated and argued about as they have been."

John Major, campaigning in Scotland, said he believed "the whole United Kingdom is immensely stronger because Scotland is part of the UK and passionately believed that is where it should remain for the future". The Prime Minister said he believed in the Union was a matter of principle, whether or not there were a majority of non-Tory MPs north of the border.

"If we were going to go down the devolution route, and I understand the proud aspirations of a proud nation ... we would be heading inexorably for a conflict between an Edinburgh parliament and a Westminster parliament and independence for Scotland and the break-up of the United Kingdom as we know it."

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