All the issues that matter have been deftly excluded from this lacklustre campaign

This will be the most controlled and 'censored' election in living memory, because we let it happen
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The Independent Online

Alastair Campbell reportedly sent a perky memo to the troops last Saturday. Although the usual warnings are there in small print to reluctant or indolent Labour voters - the message is upbeat. They are winning the arguments; Tony Blair and Gordon Brown coming together is good for votes, millions associate Howard with nastiness. "This job is largely done," he concludes. Not quite, I hope.

Alastair Campbell reportedly sent a perky memo to the troops last Saturday. Although the usual warnings are there in small print to reluctant or indolent Labour voters - the message is upbeat. They are winning the arguments; Tony Blair and Gordon Brown coming together is good for votes, millions associate Howard with nastiness. "This job is largely done," he concludes. Not quite, I hope.

Iraq - until now, that is - and other thorny issues have been managed out of the election by the New Labour machinery and, it has to be said, by some powerful journalists whose hot partisan breath raises the wings of their favoured government, which now soars when it should be ensnared and properly grilled.

Other media interrogators, who are unquestionably independent, are suddenly languid instead of sharp and persistent. Their interviews sag, lack vigour, and teeth. It is as if they cannot bear to pursue politicians to get at the facts. Perhaps they know that some of these truths, if confronted, would blast away British complacency about this democratic nation and its honour. Paxman with Blair last week is just one example.

The interview was mostly torpid, even when Paxman extracted startling assertions and admissions from our vainglorious PM. A school-gate mum would have been more alert and robust on the follow-ups. Having said accusingly that he resented his integrity being impugned, Blair then admitted that although he felt "terrible" about it, he had disclosed David Kelly's name because he didn't want to conceal anything from the committee which was looking into the Gilligan affair at the time. He broke the confidentiality Kelly was entitled to and failed to protect the civil servant. This was followed by the death of the weapons expert.

After this death, Blair and Geoff Hoon repeatedly denied they had had anything to do with the leaking of the name. They lied.

Paxman let this walk on by. Blair then pronounced with absolute conviction (what else?) that he took us to war because he wanted to stop Saddam humiliating the international community - another day, another reason. He was not called to account for the statement, which implied that our state and the UN are his personal possessions.

The media has ignored other fundamental questions, so we know virtually nothing about the limbless children wandering around Basra, or how many people have died in Iraq (we don't count them) as a result of the weapons we have used, or the demonstration against the occupation by 300,000 Iraqis who burnt the effigies of Saddam, Bush and Blair. We have a right to know exactly when Blair really decided to go with Bush whatever the consequences. And what it took to convince Lord Goldsmith to change his mind on the legality of the war, from questioning whether it would be an unlawful enterprise to being sure that it was legitimate and within international rules.

The British public is also being denied a proper debate on what happens next with this special relationship between the UK and US. Both the main parties, and the Liberal Democrats, too, need to clarify their positions. A new ICM survey shows that 61 per cent of Britons believe the UK is too close to US foreign policies in the Middle East.

The Labour manifesto says: "We have worked closely with the US and other nations to combat the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The threat of the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons - and their use by rogue states or terrorist groups - is a pressing issue for the world today." I don't know about you, but I am filled with both fear and rage when reading these sentences, which sum up the destructive bond between two powerful nations, their hubris and double standards. How unsafe they are making the world.

The insurgency in Iraq is only the beginning of a second wave of reaction against the British/ American axis. Our government colludes in the ongoing torment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, who have no access to justice; we work with the hyper-power and jointly outsource torture to be carried out in places such as Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and friendly Arab countries. Leo Blair's lunchbox has enjoyed vastly greater coverage and discussion than this vital future strategy.

Europe too has gone missing, except in the miserable negative campaigning of Europhobes. All those who have allowed themselves to believe that Gordon Brown will one day save the soul of the Labour Party should be told more about his obsessive attachment to the US and his disdain for the European Union. The Tories are getting away with their slick promises without having to explain the likely impact of weakened ties to the EU on our economy, laws and collective human rights. The Liberal Democrats say little about the need for a healthy, confident, well-run Europe which could, if reformed, be an invaluable bloc to rebalance the world now in the hands of the US neocons.

Immigration may have become the most emotive issue of this election, but sound and fury and something indescribable called "common sense" don't allow space for mature consideration. To his credit, Blair's speech in Dover was longer than a squiggled sentence on a poster. It had details, history, economic arguments and a proper rebuke to those in the Opposition who are calculatedly inflaming the electorate. But when it came to asylum policies, it was all punitive policing and ejections, not much explaining the reasons we have desperate people travelling so far to this land of growing intolerance. Nothing about their human rights and our obligations either. The population makes its mind up with barely any of the facts they need.

Other no-go areas include taxation, pensions, our arms industries, railways and roads and faith-based schools. The Liberal Democrats have tried to bring these subjects into the election conversations, but their polite discourse is getting them nowhere. And so we are here, approaching a day as important as the one in 1997 which ejected the Tories, but having to negotiate the most savagely controlled, "censored" and constricted election in living memory.

It happens because we, the people, let it. The Barbican is staging a much-acclaimed production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at the moment. Power, megalomania, the changeable and gullible mob and corruption are laid bare, and should make us think of our own times and weaknesses.

As Cassius says to Brutus: "Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world/Like a Colossus: and we petty men/Walk under his huge legs, and peep about/ To find ourselves dishonourable graves./Men at some time are masters of their fates:/ The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/ But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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