No-change campaign

Anthony Bevins on new ways of conjuring up old bogeymen
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The Independent Online
The election campaign now being fought by the Conservative high command is a virtual re-run of the formula used so successfully in 1992.

Tax and spend, trade union links; all the hoary old battle-cries are being turned on again, with the underlying theme that people should not risk Labour ruining what has been achieved with such painstaking care over the last 17 years. Because so many voters will not remember the 1978- 79 "Winter of Discontent", when public sector strikes caused significant disruption, the Conservatives are now raising new fears for the same trade union bogeymen.

The move also raises the profile of Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, who has taken over responsibility for industrial relations from the old Department of Employment, now fused into Gillian Shephard's Department for Education and Employment.

Mr Lang, who has taken parallel responsibility for attacks on the minimum wage, is regarded as the man who has the Prime Minister's blessing for a leadership succession.

A middle-ground candidate, tarred neither with Thatcherite or "wet" Left labels, Mr Lang is being provided with heaven-sent opportunities to bash Labour.

The fact that Mr Lang does not have a significant initiative to announce, short of extending the cooling-off period for public sector strikes from seven days to a fortnight, or even a month, is immaterial.

The very discussion of the issue, by Mr Lang on the radio yesterday and by the Prime Minister during his regional tour, puts Labour on the spot.

With the dextrous damage-limitation that Labour has learned since 1992, party spokesman David Blunkett is expected to respond by plumping for a requirement that public service unions should "in certain circumstances" go to arbitration.

As some union leaders were quick to point out yesterday, arbitration suggests that a Labour government would be bound by the ruling - and the potential additional costs of a settlement. That, again, gives the Tories another stick with which to beat Labour.