Wake up, lefties! There's an election coming soon

'No one believes the Tories can win, so they see no point in subjecting their policies to examination'
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The Independent Online

Why is it that the right is almost always less dozy than the left? Over on the "it's cool to be selfish" side of the political divide, they're gearing up for the battle to reclaim the governance of Britain, while the forces of progress and kindness seem barely to have noticed that there's a fight on. Wake up, lefties! - to borrow from John Major, circa 1992 - wake up, before it's too late!

Why is it that the right is almost always less dozy than the left? Over on the "it's cool to be selfish" side of the political divide, they're gearing up for the battle to reclaim the governance of Britain, while the forces of progress and kindness seem barely to have noticed that there's a fight on. Wake up, lefties! - to borrow from John Major, circa 1992 - wake up, before it's too late!

The Government, of course - cautious as ever - has never ceased worrying about the moment (perhaps less than 10 months hence) when Paul Sykes paints his millions in bald colours on a thousand billboards. Staff officers have been exchanged between Millbank and No 10; Gordon and Peter have, no doubt, exchanged wintry pleasantries on the subject of the upcoming campaign. I'm sure the Lib Dems are doing much the same. But in the Labour/Liberal hinterlands, no one seems to have cottoned on to the fact that the battle is approaching. The followers-on, the supporters, the luvvies, the back-benchers, the well-disposed commentators, the people who might give Labour a fair crack of the whip, are sleeping - or worse.

For a year now, every editorial sinew at the Daily Mail has been strained in the service of its own political agenda. Stories that do not conform to that agenda are spiked, columns insufficiently aware of its key themes are rewritten, headlines are dispatched with a toxophilist's concern for direction. This week it's a campaign against Gordon Brown's fuel taxes, waged (naturally) on behalf of that strange half-human, half-machine, the motorist, and neatly coinciding with William Hague's main line of attack at Prime Minister's Question Time. Next week it'll be Europe, or asylum-seekers again, or just another attempt to spear Mo over the Royal Family; the single-mindedness is extraordinary. At The Daily Telegraph, they are more languid, less vulgar, but almost as committed.

Over on the Tory back benches, the strange Major interregnum of dither and disloyalty has disappeared and, with it, the decent Conservative centre. No one now raises the standard of Heathite tolerance in public. If Sir George Young believes that his leader's pronouncements on asylum-seekers are dangerous or opportunistic, he's keeping it very much to himself. Francis Maude invents a new policy of holding a referendum every time that a veto changes into a majority decision in the EU, and a party that has never hosted a referendum in its entire existence suddenly thinks such excessive plebiscitarianism is just great.

The door-steps are sibilant with canvassers hissing "Romanian gypsies! Rampant homosexuals in our schools! Lower taxes for the likes of you, lower benefits for the likes of them!" in the ears of the electorate. And no one seems to be scrutinising Conservative pronouncements on policy. Alastair Campbell scratching his bum is news; the impossibility of the latest Smith Square pronunciation on tax policies is of little interest. The Tories want to increase pensions, maintain spending on the NHS and the education services; they will not slash provisions for prisons, police and armed forces. Yet the tax guarantee means tax cuts or it means nothing. The only way this high-wire act can be accomplished is by significant reductions in the welfare budget. So who'll suffer? No one even seems to want to ask the question, let alone hear the answer. Meanwhile daft stories about Lord Levy's tax affairs (he paid no taxes in a year he didn't earn any money, shock) and Helen Liddell's non-existent advocacy of an early referendum on the euro fill the columns and choke the band-widths.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that no one believes the Tories can win, so they see no point in subjecting them to the detailed examination that Labour has had to endure in the 12 months before every election since that of 1987. As a consequence, alternatives to Labour's policies are never properly discussed. Yet it's only within the context of viable choices that any policy can really be evaluated.

The second reason is that the left is, broadly speaking, still full of people for whom the exercise of power is an unnatural, filthy act, only made possible by the selling of souls to Mephistopheles and the jolly devils of capitalism. When they hear a centre-left government attacked, their first response is not to defend it, but to shake their heads and say, "I know, I know." They have been expecting to be disappointed from the moment Michael Portillo bowed out at Southgate. Indeed, many of them predicted their disappointment long before the election itself. The one thing that such people are never disappointed in is their own disappointment; that always lives up to expectation.

So, as the Mailistas and Haguerites rampage round the country, what is the centre-left up to? That nice Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay launches a four-month assault on the leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Ken Livingstone (not a member, perhaps, but certainly an exotic landmark in the near hinterland) is comparing Gordon Brown to the Nazi occupiers of France. Disillusioned stand-up comics get to abuse the Government at a ha'penny a word. Folk I've usually admired, such as Frank Field, seem determined to tell anyone who's listening that the Government's done nowt for their folk. And GMB boss John Edmonds is unchipped from the pre-Cambrian rock to threaten dire consequences if the Government fulfils its own election manifesto on electoral reform. The "makes no difference" brigade vies in cynicism with the socialist snobs who condemn Cherie for her dresses and her drapes and Tony for being an intellectual lightweight.

I have been highly critical of this lot myself. But only a fool would deliberately equate the Government's misguided attempts to defuse the asylum issue with the Opposition's determination to detonate it. Those who suggest that there is little to choose between New Labour and Haguerism can only afford to think that if there's no chance that the proposition will be tested. Government by a party that Norman Tebbit is "happy to belong to", and which has substituted an Austrian populism for the economic radicalism of Mrs Thatcher, would be an uncomfortable experience. But at least it would give the whingers something to really moan about.

But that isn't the only reason for wanting to see this government to succeed. Peter Kilfoyle recently said of his constituents that "they see nothing in it [the Government] for them". Well they bloody well ought to. Why did it take a London University professor, writing in a newspaper this week, to point out what Labour MPs should be pointing out, which is that existing government policy will have a significant impact on child poverty, and quite soon? Why do the teachers and parents at the thousands of state schools where the scaffolding has gone up and the building has started not talk a bit about it?

What is going on at the moment is a food fight at a leftie Belshazzar's Feast. Meanwhile the writing on the wall has a distinctly Gothic slope to it. The right have come to reclaim their country. Wake up!

David.Aaronovitch@btinternet.com

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