All talk, no action and, strangely, Sir Norman's still in a job

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The Independent Online
AM I THE only person who resents being told how well the Tories (or Labour or Lib Dems) did in the Euro-elections?

We are always being told in the aftermath of an election that the parties did this or did that, usually worse or better.

But the only people who did anything were the voters. Election time is the only time that we get the chance to do anything at all. We get the chance to go out and cast a vote, and if sufficient numbers of us change our votes from last time, then we are seen to have done something. We have changed the make-up of Parliament, we have spat in people's eyes, we have endorsed certain policies, we have expressed our dislike of someone, we have apologised for the way we voted last time - all these things we may have done.

But that is not the way the parties express it. The spokesmen for the Tories (Sir Norman 'disappointed' Fowler) or the Lib Dems (Paddy 'jubilant but disappointed' Ashdown) or for the Labour Party (someone with a Geordie accent whose name I didn't catch) do not say, 'The voters did really well last night', or 'What the voters were trying to tell us all last night was . . .' or even, bravely, 'I'm afraid the voters did rather badly last night'. They say: 'We made great strikes last night'. They say: 'We made great inroads into the Tory heartlands'. They say: 'We did not nearly as badly as the media said we would'.

But the parties didn't do anything] They didn't announce any changes of policy, or float new ideas, or cut taxes, or increase taxes, or fire anyone, or apologise for anything, or even find someone new to go on TV and replace Sir Norman Fowler. All they did was stand around while the votes were being cast, and then put a brave face on it or look jubilant afterwards. I don't call that doing something.

And when the voters actually do something, like cutting the Government's share of the vote to a quarter, does the Government pay attention? Does it say, 'Right, the voters have spoken and we shall listen - we shall resign, or change our policies, or ask the Opposition for advice, or something like that . . .'? No. It does not. All that happens is that Sir Norman Fowler comes on TV and says that in the light of these disappointing results the Tories must work even harder to get their policies across.

In other words, he is saying, we voters were wrong and the Tories were right and the Tories, being right, must change the voters' wrong minds. There is never any question of the voters being right and the Tories changing their minds. That would involve the Tories doing something. As I have suggested, doing is not something they like to do.

At the moment it is being suggested that the Tories should either have a Cabinet reshuffle or fire John Major. This is not, I humbly submit, doing anything, unless you count a PR exercise as doing something. Very occasionally it does work. Very occasionally a football manager will make a late substitution and the sub will get the winning goal. Very occasionally. But almost always this shuffling of the available tired talent leads nowhere except to the nearest brick wall, or to extra time and penalties.

In fact, shuffling of Cabinets and axing of leaders often conceals the fact that nothing new is happening. The replacement of Thatcher by Major was greeted (by the Tories) as a sign that they had done something. But if it has led to a significant change in Tory actions, then I must have been out of the country when it happened. They have gone on down the same Thatcherite road of privatising railways, putting more beggars on the streets, denying they sold arms to Iraq and giving a national lottery to friends of the family, and I am not sure that all that adds up to doing something.

As a voter, I cannot say that I thought any party did anything useful in the recent elections. So I would like to spell out now the minimum I expect from the three main political parties.

From Labour I expect the election of a leader and deputy leader without the use of the words 'dream ticket'.

From the Lib Dems I expect Paddy Ashdown to stop referring to the period following John Smith's death as 'a honeymoon'.

And from the Tories I expect a TV spokesman reshuffle, with Sir Norman Fowler being replaced before the next by-election.

It isn't much to ask. But it's probably more than I will get.