Blair is preoccupied with headlines and spin, says Howard

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Michael Howard challenged Tony Blair to deliver on his promises yesterday as he mocked the Queen's Speech, declaring: "Haven't we heard it all before?"

Michael Howard challenged Tony Blair to deliver on his promises yesterday as he mocked the Queen's Speech, declaring: "Haven't we heard it all before?"

The Conservative leader accused government ministers of being preoccupied with "talk, spin and headlines", telling Mr Blair: "What the country wants to know is, when will you deliver?" But the Prime Minister hit back angrily, accusing the Conservatives of promoting the politics of fantasy.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, attacked plans for a package of anti-crime and terror legislation, likening the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to the Republican neoconservatives in the White House.

The Queen's Speech debate took on the atmosphere of a pre-election hustings as Mr Howard launched an assault on the Government's record, insisting that families were paying more tax but were not getting "value for money".

He said: "Hard-working families are paying the equivalent of £5,000 a year more in tax. But what have they got to show for it? A million patients still on NHS waiting lists, a million children playing truant from school and a million violent crimes. It's no wonder that hard-working families feel hard pressed and hard done by under this government. People are fed up with talk; they want action."

Mr Howard demanded to know when Labour would deliver on its promises, more than seven years after the party came to power. He said: "If it took Winston Churchill five years to win the Second World War, and if it took Clement Attlee six years to build the welfare state, surely seven and a half years is more than enough for you to get a grip on the problems that face Britain today.

"In a year or so we're going to have an election when people will say: 'We've paid a lot of taxes but what's really been achieved with all that money?'"

He mocked the Government's plans for a draft anti-terror Bill, asking why ministers were waiting to introduce legislation and chided Mr Blair over asylum policy. Mr Howard said: "We have a government which admits that the law needs to be changed, but not yet; a government which says protection from terrorism is a priority, but not yet; a government which says we'll take action to keep you safe, but not yet."

He added: "How can he keep a straight face talking about security when he is going to cut our armed forces and disband historic regiments, including the Black Watch?"

But Mr Blair attacked the Conservatives for publishing options for tax cuts and public service savings while refusing to commit themselves to policies, and said planned Tory savings were already under way in his government. Mr Blair said Tories wanted to spend £1.3bn extra on police through immigration and asylum savings by processing all claims abroad.

But no country would agree to this, the Prime Minister said. "We start with fantasy tax cuts, we then have fantasy spending, we then have fantasy savings and now we have got a fantasy country. Fantasy policies are amusing for a fantasy government, but supposing it became a reality. Then the fantasy becomes a fraud on the British people and is no longer amusing but dangerous. It would be back to the failed polices of the past."

He said to Mr Howard: "You are not the hope of a successful Tory future because you are the reincarnation of a failed Tory past."

Mr Blair tried to deflect claims about the Government's concentration on anti-crime and terrorist legislation. He said: "It's said that these measures are scaremongering, but the fact is that the threats faced by the country and every other major country around the world are real."

But Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, accused the Home Secretary of undermining liberal opinion in the country. He said: "If you look at Britain today in so many ways, reflected by much of the legislation we have been passing here on same-sex relationships and on other matters too, Britain today is a much more liberal society in its attitudes and aspirations. The Home Secretary seems to have lost that plot or indeed is seeking to undermine that development."

* Tony Blair is planning to hold the general election on 5 May next year, according to reports in The Sun. The spring election is due to coincide with local elections and will put to an end to speculation that the Prime Minister was considering delaying the vote until autumn. Peter Hain, leader of the Commons, yesterday said that none of the measures in the Queen's Speech would be made law in time for a May election.

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