The Labour policies that lurk beyond this campaign

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The Independent Online

There were loud warnings from Labour luminaries yesterday about voters who might "drift off" into abstention or vote for the Liberal Democrats. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Hain all warned of such an eventuality while touring marginal constituencies, and Mr Blair does so separately in an unusually personal plea to Independent readers today. The danger, as the Prime Minister and others see it, is that former Labour voters who decide for whatever reason not to vote Labour could end up electing a Tory MP even though they do not really want one.

There were loud warnings from Labour luminaries yesterday about voters who might "drift off" into abstention or vote for the Liberal Democrats. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Hain all warned of such an eventuality while touring marginal constituencies, and Mr Blair does so separately in an unusually personal plea to Independent readers today. The danger, as the Prime Minister and others see it, is that former Labour voters who decide for whatever reason not to vote Labour could end up electing a Tory MP even though they do not really want one.

The "back-door" argument is one we have heard from time to time during this campaign, and we will doubtless hear more of it in the hours that remain. But the best way to deter "tactical" voting, drift, abstention, apathy - or any other euphemism for a non-Labour vote - is not to scare people into voting for you, but to offer positive policies that have so much appeal to Labour voters that they crowd out the obvious negative: Iraq.

Mr Blair and his government, however, have taken a rather different tack. On very many of the big questions that this country confronts, it has chosen not to advertise a policy at all. After all, if you do not take a stance on an issue that is likely to prove contentious, that is one more constituency that has no need to take offence.

Yesterday offered a classic case in point. At his morning news conference, Mr Blair denied an Independent report according to which he had secretly given the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear weapons to replace Trident. Personally, he said, he believed that it would be best for Britain to retain a nuclear capability, but there was no decision. It was something that would "obviously have to be discussed within government".

Indeed it will, and not just within government. Whether Britain remains a nuclear power is no simple question. It will determine our military strength and status, it will say something about our perception of ourselves as a nation and it will have a bearing on our alliances. It is precisely the sort of "big picture" subject that should be open for consideration at the time of an election.

If a replacement for Trident and the nuclear deterrent were the only big question unanswered, it might be simply because it can - just - be pushed further into the future than the next government term. There is a conspicuous number of subjects of similar magnitude, however, which have simply been shuffled off the agenda by dint of being delegated down the line.

The European constitutional treaty was removed from the electoral battlefield early on, when a referendum was promised. Mr Blair did not have to commit himself to campaigning on Europe at all. The question of under-funded pensions is being considered by the Turner commission, whose final report is expected later this year. The interim report made clear the fundamental decisions were for politicians to make. A review of local government funding is also in progress, allowing the Government not to engage either with the Liberal Democrats' proposal for a local income tax or the Tories' renunciation of a new revaluation. It is a similar story on energy and the environment: a "national debate" could be launched on whether to introduce a new generation of nuclear power stations early in a new Labour term.

Such equivocation is passed off as judicious decision-making or "consultation". In fact, it is neither. It is dereliction of duty, more colloquially known as a cop-out. In choosing which way to cast our vote, we deserve to know what the governing party intends to do on these major issues. The answer, disgracefully, appears to be this: nothing; nothing, at least, that might affect the outcome of an election or tie the hands of the next government.

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