The Sketch: Michael, let Tony do your speeches

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The Independent Online

It was a perfectly reasonable speech, though it sounds better when Tony Blair gives it. Against: waste. For: value for money. Choice? Oh yes, choice is important.

It was a perfectly reasonable speech, though it sounds better when Tony Blair gives it. Against: waste. For: value for money. Choice? Oh yes, choice is important.

As is reform, and reformed public services. Hard work is to be rewarded, excellence admired. Market solutions will invigorate public services. And power? Oh, power will be devolved to the front line because local people know best how to deal with local problems. Under this definition, New Labour is Toryism with higher taxes.

There was some talk of a penny off income tax. If Tony Blair could, he too would offer a penny off income tax as well. "No one has to take us on trust," Mr Howard declared, in a rare moment of realism.

If this is their election campaign, their strategists deserve the cruellest punishment. Something with cattle prods. Something with barbed wire. Something terminating not in ignominy but oblivion.

The party is offering a minutely costed plan to eliminate waste by abolishing 158 bodies and 235,000 jobs. Oliver Letwin - rather brilliantly - rebutted Alastair Darling's pre-launch criticisms demonstrating intimate familiarity with the Meat Hygiene Board's structural relationship with the Food Standards Agency.

We can all applaud that. He was very good on the Rural payments Agency, as well. There is no doubt about the waste in government. New Labour agree. They have their own plans for cutting waste. The argument appears to revolve around public spending of 1 per cent of GDP. No wonder people can't be bothered.

The Tories have gone into this level of detail because they decided to campaign on the entirely fictitious proposition they could win this election. They could instead have aimed for the election after and just promise to take 5p off the basic rate of tax and complete the well-meaning reforms that Tony Blair had started (but had to fudge because of that Scottish socialist Gordon Brown). A positive campaign, a generous campaign, a campaign concealing its rage and loathing and contempt. A New Labour campaign, in short.

Oh what a terrible thing, to betray your colleagues, to abandon your tribe and put yourself into exile. And there at the mouth of the alien cave to be welcomed by Bob and Phyllis and Shona and Doug and Colin. There was a little stage-managed reception for him, the Tory who has gone over to the Government. He's a fellow of All Souls, in Oxford. Lord, what was he doing here, at St Stephen's Entrance, in the dark, slanting rain, in front of the cameras and the small handful of backbenchers the whips could produce? "Vair, good, thank you vair much, ha ha, yes, this has never happened to me before, er ha!" And the red tie? "Oh no, not new, vair frequently worn, ha!"

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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