A few appropriate responses should help to clarify things

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The Independent Online
WHEN Sinn Fein asks for clarification of the Government's proposals on Northern Ireland, there are two possible reactions to this request.

One is to ask, in return, for some equal clarification of the IRA's continuing policy of violence, murder and destruction.

The other is to express complete sympathy and agreement with Gerry Adams, and proclaim: 'Look, mate, there are some of us who have been seeking clarification of everything the Tories have been saying and doing for the past 14 years, and if you have any better luck than us, please get in touch.'

The first option is useless. The IRA never clarifies what it does. It refuses to answer and just goes on bombing.

The second option is useless. The Tories never clarify what they do. They refuse to answer and just go on bumbling.

And even when they do seem to be answering, it is impossible to make any sense out of what they say.

For instance, when faced with evidence that our tax load will be heavier in April than it was in the last years of Labour, Kenneth Clarke says to us, in effect: 'Look, in 1979 the Labour government was pouring money into British Leyland and other white elephants, and if we had been in power then, we wouldn't have poured all that money away, so taxes would have been lower.'

Mr Clarke, like all Tory ministers, is refusing to clarify what is staring him in the face; the undisputed fact that even if Labour was pouring money into British Leyland in 1979, it was still keeping taxes lower than taxes are in 1994 when the Tories aren't pouring money into British Leyland]

I have prepared a small list of questions that I carry round with me for the day when I bump into a Tory spokesman and can say to him: 'If you answer these questions, I promise not to tell your wife.'

And when he says, 'Tell her about what?', I shall say, 'I think you know what I mean . . .'

It occurs to me that if we all cut out this list and carry it around, the odds will become dramatically better that one of us will one day meet some evasive Tory and get a few answers out of him. Here, then, is my shortlist of questions.

1. Why do the Tories remember with such clarity every mistake made by the Labour Party before 1979, and have such an inability to remember any mistake made by their own party thereafter?

2. Why do they think they can help to clear up Bosnia when they have spent 50 years being unable to clear up Northern Ireland?

3. Why do they allow Michael Howard to go on saying that 'prisons work', when everyone knows they do not?

4. And why do they believe anything else he says?

5. Why have the French finished their high-speed rail link to the Channel tunnel when the Tories have not started Britain's?

6. Given the Tories' inability even to start the high-speed rail link, why should we trust them on anything else they say about railways?

7. Why have they persisted in giving work to John Gummer for 14 years, when there are 1 million unemployed people perfectly capable of doing a good job?

8. Why is it that, even though the Royal Family is supposed not to be able to answer back about anything, we know roughly what it thinks about most things, whereas, although the Tory government is allowed to answer back about everything, we have no idea what it really thinks about anything?

9. When the Tories spend so much time talking about going 'back to basics', why do they not mention any of the real basics, such as the amount of energy we have left on this planet, or the kind of country we want Britain to be?

10. Why, when the Tories have resorted to some new, desperate, inexplicable policy, do they always call it 'the appropriate response'?

11. For instance, in what possible sense can John Patten be called the appropriate response to our educational problems?

12. Why do the Tories persist in a system of government that deprives MPs of any meaningful home life, and then claim to be the party which stands for the family, when the only way most Tories in office can see anything of their families is to resign?

13. When people go on about how fed up they are with this present government, and how wonderful it would be if it just went away, do the Tories never feel tempted to own up to how bored they are with trying to work out how to run the country, and do they never feel the urge to throw it all in and go and do something more interesting? Or at least something they can do properly?

Well, it's a start. Let me know if you get any answers. Or, indeed, have any questions you deem more appropriate . . .