So a general election is not an auction, after all. But if money can't buy you votes, then what can? Grand ideas, bold vision? Clearly not - for the less Tony Blair promises to do, the more people promise to vote for him. Honesty, perhaps? But telling the truth, in politics, is now known as "making a gaffe". The election will be won by the party we decide Britain will be safest with. Safety has become the golden virtue of our time; the big stories are safety scares - how safe are our steaks? our streets? - and even the debate about drugs, once a question of liberty, is now a wrangle over the safety of this or that stimulant. Street slang, always a useful guide, no longer says something is OK, cool, or even sorted; instead it describes it as "safe". As we near the end of a millennium, time is clearly much on our minds. A passion for safety is nothing more than the strange desire to live for ever. We no longer seem to much mind what kind of life we live, or what kind of world we have, just as long as we can hang around in it.
Money can't buy you love - but we had thought it could probably buy you votes. If so, James Goldsmith's pounds 20m should be able to buy a very large number of votes indeed. So we should be greatly cheered by the Gallup poll last week which gave his Referendum Party just 1 per cent of support. No amount of billboards or extravagantly paid staff have seduced the electorate; money, Goldsmith has learnt, cannot even buy you inflated poll ratings. When, last autumn, he asked MORI to keep re-wording the question until it yielded a better response, the pollsters politely declined, and terminated the contract.