But what is the Labour policy for the third term?

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The Independent Online

Peter Hain, the refreshingly candid Leader of the Commons, let the cat out of the bag. The Queen's Speech, he admitted, was designed to seize the Conservative Party's natural territory of law and order. "We are crowding out any space for them on the security agenda," he told Westminster journalists.

Peter Hain, the refreshingly candid Leader of the Commons, let the cat out of the bag. The Queen's Speech, he admitted, was designed to seize the Conservative Party's natural territory of law and order. "We are crowding out any space for them on the security agenda," he told Westminster journalists.

That "safety and security" would be the main theme of the last parliamentary session before the general election has been an open secret since this newspaper revealed Tony Blair's strategy in July. It is unusual for a legislative programme to be used so nakedly as part of an election campaign. But we should not be surprised, since the Blair administration has learnt to use all the levers of power.

In yesterday's programme, it is hard to find anything approaching an agenda for a third-term Labour Government. Apart from law and order, the pages are blank. There was little on public services or welfare, although Mr Blair wants radical reforms.

A fig leaf - extending child benefit to 19-year-olds in training and education - was added to the list of measures so ministers could say the speech was about "opportunity" as well as "security".

In practice, few of the 29 Bills or eight draft measures in the Queen's Speech will become law before the election expected next May. Most will have to be reintroduced afterwards.

Mr Blair has another list of other measures up his sleeve that will be added to yesterday's programme. They will emerge in Gordon Brown's Pre-Budget Report next week, his Budget next spring, more five-year plans from Whitehall departments and Labour's election manifesto.

Although the Queen's Speech was unbalanced, ministers know there is a danger of over-dosing on the "security" medicine. It might have worked for George Bush, but, thankfully, Britain has not had its 9/11 and is not so obviously "at war" in Iraq (which many Americans still see as payback for 9/11).

So ministers acknowledge the need to offer hope as well as fear, optimism as well as pessimism. Alan Milburn, Labour's policy and elections co-ordinator, said in a speech last night: "If communities and citizens are to realise their aspirations for progress they need opportunity alongside security. This twin track of providing security and opportunity in an era of vast global change will be at the core of our ambitions for Britain."

Interestingly, he has a more upbeat assessment of the country's mood. "In the 1980s, the consensus was that Britain must fall behind. Today a new consensus is emerging that Britain can move ahead. Then it was nostalgia about the past. Today it is hope about the future."

In the Commons yesterday, Michael Howard, left with little room for manoeuvre, struggled to make an impact in his duel with Mr Blair. Tory MPs looked glum.

Ministers deny whipping up fears about crime and terrorism, saying they are merely reflecting the public's concerns about problems ranging from the terrorist threat to vandalism.

But they are open to the charge of making a self-fulfilling prophecy: fear of crime is rising although the overall level of crime is falling.

With the exception of law and order, there is a lot more work to flesh out Labour's manifesto for a third term. But Mr Blair knows it must be done: he does not want the election to become a referendum on his eight years in power.

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