All this premeditated distortion, combined with a refusal to confront the real issues, is a taste of things to come. With few genuine differences between the two main parties, the apparatchiks are having to create them. In doing so they are aping an old tabloid trick: first simplify, then exaggerate. This year is, for example, a crucial year for Britain to determine its role in Europe as France and Germany press ahead with moves towards a single currency. Neither side will put that on the agenda. Instead the two main parties' messages are becoming depressingly clear. Labour, the Tories argue, will be the "poodle of Brussels" signing away Westminster's powers at the drop of a hat. The Conservatives, Labour will argue, will take the country out of the EU. Both are travesties of the truth. Mr Blair is more pro-European than the Prime Minister, yet opposes the transfer of powers to Brussels in, for example, justice and home affairs. Nor are the Tories on a trajectory that would lead them out of Europe in the short term. If the Conservatives, by some chance, win the election, John Major will survive. Under his leadership one can predict more dismal drift and indecision, more pointless posturing against Brussels and a grateful acceptance of new opt-outs from every new area of European co- operation. But it will not mean Britain's exit from Europe.
The blame for this debasing of political discourse lies mainly with the Conservatives. They began the relentless stream of negative campaigning with slogans such as "New Labour, New Danger", demon eyes and, now, blood- red tears. And, as Tony Blair argues in this paper today, destroying the credibility of the Labour leader has long been central to Tory election strategy. Moreover, after 17 years in office, it has become increasingly implausible for the Conservatives to argue that they have new answers to the nation's problems. Attack is their only defence.
But Labour is relinquishing the moral high ground by playing the same game. It is not too late, for them at least, to change tack. They, after all, do have some positive visions to place before the electorate. Labour can offer a fresh start, a renewal of the nation's political system, a handing down of power closer to the people, and the first steps towards addressing some of the nation's chronic problems: youth unemployment, social dislocation, crime, low standards in education. And, if Gordon Brown has suddenly found another pounds 5bn from his windfall tax on the utilities, how about devoting that cash to a crusade to raise education standards - not through placebos like more homework, but by attracting the brightest and best into the teaching profession with competitive salaries, and by investing in childcare and nursery provision? Such election pledges might even shame the Tories into an adult debate.Reuse content