LEADING ARTICLE : Somebody stole my song

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The Independent Online
Will anybody be able to tell the difference between the political parties at the next election? In case you were worried, politicians have found a new way of offering choice. Labour will be the ones that sound like Tories, Tories the ones that sound like Labour. So last week we heard Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, suggesting that child benefit for 16- to 18-year-olds should be abolished while Peter Lilley, the Social Security Secretary, accused him of planning to "clobber" low-income families.

This kind of role reversal is at first confusing but we could get used to it. Already, we have a Tory Prime Minister who likes to advertise his humble origins and his affection for Happy Eaters while a Labour deputy leader tells us he is middle-class and drives a Jaguar. Perhaps Michael Howard can learn to criticise his opposite number, Jack Straw, for an over-zealous attitude to illegal immigrants and squeegee merchants. ("We in the Conservative Party know that tolerance works. Kindness works. Probation for burglars and drug dealers works.") Kenneth Clarke can criticise the Shadow Chancellor's budgetary caution. ("Labour meanies will make it harder for you to live off the welfare.") At education, Gillian Shephard can criticise David Blunkett for an obsession with academic standards. ("Open-plan classrooms, anti-racist maths lessons, free play in the Wendy House - these were the things that made Britain great.") And, of course, the old master, Michael Heseltine, will speak out. ("Our message to the Labour Party is this. Don't trust small businesses to look after their workers. Regulate them now.") He and his colleagues should speed up their training. When we have a Labour government, pursuing Tory policies in Tory language, how else will it be opposed?

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