Cameron attacks Blair's 'politics of fear to mask failure'

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Indy Politics

David Cameron tried to draw a line under Tony Blair's premiership yesterday, declaring "you promised so much and delivered so little".

He used his response to the Queen's Speech to lament what he branded the Government's failure to deliver over nine years and accused Mr Blair of trading on the "politics of fear".

He told MPs: "There is a big dividing line in British politics today, between hope and fear. This was the Prime Minister's last chance to offer hope for a better society, instead he chose fear to try to cover up his failures; the politics of fear from a government of failure."

But Mr Blair hit back, defending what will be his last legislative programme and lambasting Mr Cameron for failing to take the policy decisions Britain needs. Labour MPs cheered as he told the Commons: "Hope is not built on talking about sunshine any more than anti-social behaviour is combated by 'love'. Hope is what a strong economy gives you. Hope is what investment in the NHS and schools give you. Hope is proper measures to tackle the long-term challenges.

"Hope, true hope, is about tough decision-making and you have never taken a tough decision in your life."

Mr Cameron derided the Government for failing to tackle problems facing Britain and turned his fire on Gordon Brown, telling MPs the Chancellor would offer nothing different if he succeeds Mr Blair as Prime Minister. "The tragedy of this Prime Minister is that he has promised so much and delivered so little," he said. "The tragedy of this Queen's Speech is that all his successor offers is more of the same. More laws on crime. Violent crime soars. More laws on health. Hospitals close. More laws on immigration. Our borders still out of control. Every year the same promises. Every year the same failures."

He attacked the Government for cutting 20,000 staff in the NHS, harking back to Neil Kinnock's famous Labour Party conference speech attacking Militant Tendency. Mr Cameron said: "So much for 24 hours to save the NHS. All over the country we are seeing departments closed, hospitals threatened, staff being sacked. To paraphrase a former leader of the Labour Party, we have ended up with the grotesque chaos of a Labour Government, that's a Labour Government, scuttling around the country, handing out redundancy notices to their own NHS staff."

He declared: "The paradox of New Labour is that, 12 years on, the Prime Minister is still desperately looking for a legacy.

"After three massive majorities, almost a decade in power, 10 Gracious Speeches, and 370 pieces of legislation, the question they have to answer is why has so little been achieved? This Queen's Speech is no different. It is so repetitive and so hollow that people know they have heard it all before and it is so depressing they might think the Chancellor has taken over already."

In reply, Mr Blair launched into a tirade against the Conservatives' record in power and declared that Mr Cameron would be seen off by Labour.

Mr Blair said: "I remember 12 years ago. Our economy had just been through two recessions caused by the Conservative government. Today we have the strongest economy, the lowest unemployment, the lowest inflation, the lowest interest rates."

The Prime Minister attacked Mr Cameron for failing to understand the long-term problems facing Britain. He said: "In the end, because he has no interest in the substance of policy, he cannot either understand the long-term challenges to this country or meet them. The next election, it will be a flyweight versus a heavyweight. And however much he may dance around the ring, at some point he will come within the reach of a big clunking fist. He will be out on his feet, carried out of the ring - the fifth Tory leader to be carried out, and a fourth-term Labour government still standing."

Mr Blair defended Britain's continuing military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling MPs: "It is important that we hold firm, that we show strength, that we stand up to those forces both in Afghanistan and Iraq that are trying to prevent those countries getting the democracy their people so obviously want."

But Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, warned that Mr Blair's legacy would be sealed by his decision to go to war in Iraq. He highlighted the "sense of drift and hopelessness that so many feel about the continuing presence in Iraq". He told MPs: "This is a sombre occasion. For all his achievements, Suez defined Eden. For all his achievements, Iraq will define Blair."

Sir Menzies called for Britain to pull its forces out of Iraq. He told MPs that American strategy in the country had "self-evidently failed". He said: "That's why I now believe the only strategy available to us is a phased withdrawal - sooner rather than later." Sir Menzies accused Mr Blair of making his priority "legislation, legislation, legislation", and said the Prime Minister was introducing Bills that he would not remain in office to see into law. He said: "I can't remember any instance of that in recent history. This is truly power without responsibility."

He added: "After nearly 10 years in office, the Government and the Prime Minister are still chasing the same elusive goals and the same elusive headlines. This is a rush from judgement towards legislation. This is a Prime Minister trying to legislate his way into history."