Why voters won't believe that Labour is led by a demon

Election battles: Tories attack Blair as Fabians target the monarchy
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The Independent Online
"What do the Tories do next?" one of Labour's most hard-bitten spin-doctors asked yesterday. "Are they going to suggest that Blair eats babies for breakfast? It is absurd; Blair as the devil incarnate does not wash, and it will not work."

But all the signs are that the Conservative campaign to demonise Tony Blair is an act of desperation. As such, it will be maintained simply because the Tories have no other weapon in the armoury.

The daunting nature of the Tory task - to convince the voters that they have more to fear from Labour than from the re-election of John Major - was illustrated by the results of a Gallup poll, buried in yesterday's Daily Telegraph.

At the latest count, Gallup's average fear factor of a fifth Tory term was 66 per cent, compared with just 36.5 per cent for Labour. The highest level of public concern about Labour was 52 per cent; a bare majority who thought that inflation might rise sharply.

However, that concern was put into context by the 10 concerns of voters about the Tories which scored fear ratings of between 54 and 83 per cent, including three-quarters of those questioned who felt that even if another Conservative government did deliver tax cuts, "people might have to pay more towards things like health care, pensions and education".

On the basis of Gallup's findings, the negative Tory campaign warning of New Labour, New Danger appears to have made little or no impact whatsoever.

That result would coincide with the fashionable view that negative campaigning does not work. But it certainly appeared to work against Neil Kinnock in the last election campaign, when Tory campaign managers geared everything they did towards "tax and Kinnock".

But while the attacks on Mr Kinnock's policy changes, and his "unreliability", worked with the grain of public feeling about the man, there are no such fears about Mr Blair; the Tories are trying to create fears where few exist. There is little new in that: they turned Mr Kinnock into a bogeyman, and they frightened the children with Tony Benn during the Eighties. In the 1951 election campaign, they harped on the threat posed by Aneurin Bevan as an evil dictator ready to take over from Clement Attlee.

But there is no germ of electoral fear about Blair, as there was about Bevan, Benn and Kinnock. The Tories are relying on the voters' gullibility. It is a measure of their desperation that there is nothing else left.