Look, Dave, look! Watch Tony lose! Leading Article

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The Independent Online
Anyone who had imagined that the Conservative Party had a monopoly on Bottomleyism and bossiness might be having second thoughts. First there was Jack Straw, muttering ominously about curfews and unruly teenagers. Now David Blunkett has designs on families whose reading habits don't come up to scratch. Parents should spend 20 minutes a night reading to their children, he tells us, as part of a Labour crusade for 100 per cent literacy among 11-year-olds. Leaving aside the fact that many of the best children's stories - and most pre-literate attention spans - last rather less than 20 minutes, there is something irritating about these visions of a delinquency-free Britain. Do we have to read these stories every night? Will 15 minutes not suffice? Are we not allowed to play games instead, or make up stories as we go along, or - heaven forbid - watch a video? Or does New Labour's love affair with virtue mean zero tolerance for any form of cakes and ale?

Labour's dominance in the polls appears to have created a self-righteous army of moral crusaders intoxicated by the apprehension of power: health visitors are to advise us on our reading habits; television soap operas are to be encouraged to use story lines involving literacy; no one must escape; everyone must swallow the wholesome propaganda, like compulsory cod-liver oil. Five years ago, Labour squandered a vast lead in the polls when it frightened the electorate with its triumphalism in the weeks leading up to the election. The sight of the new potential prefects flexing their moral muscles may yet provoke a similar scare.

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