OPINION: Voters want ideology - not spin doctors

We're under starter's orders. Not that you will notice much

difference after four years of New Labour who came to office in 1997

campaigning to make Tony Blair the first Labour Prime Minister to win a

full second term. From now until the election on 7 June, political

nerves will be stretched. Hysteria will never be far away. Spin doctors

will do their worst to clothe their own side in white raiment and make

the opposition the Devil incarnate. In the end it will be The Sun wot

won it - according to The Sun.



Elections are pre-eminently a time of self-delusion. As a civil service

press secretary with no role to play in a campaign other than to keep

the Government Information Service impartial and aloof, I thought that

all parties needed a candid friend to tell them when they and their

supporters were being ludicrously over-the-top or just plain silly. We

certainly came close to idiocy in 1987 when competing campaigns devised

by Lord Tebbit and Lord Young went separately and carefully spaced out

up and down the lift in Number 10 to confuse and alarm Margaret

Thatcher.



So, I'm going to discharge what I take to be the historic function of a

PRO: to keep two feet firmly placed on terra firma. As things stand,

Labour has not done quite enough to lose the election and the Tories

have not done enough to win it. The Liberal Democrats, by becoming

subservient to Labour, have done more than enough to be wiped out. Two

things will govern the eventual majority - Labour apathy and Tory

repentance.



Mr Blair knows that his hold on power has always been more tenuous than

his original majority of 179. This is because about two million Tories

refused to vote Conservative in 1997 or threw their lot with Jimmy

Goldsmith's Europhobes. If they have any Conservatism in them, they seem

unlikely to stay away this time when Labour acknowledges that the apathy

and disillusionment of its own supporters are its chief enemies and when

William Hague will present himself as the man who will keep the pound

sterling.



Such a scenario is destined to cause a certain frenzy. It is all the

more likely to do so when no party is perceived to be led by a

decisively commanding political giant. Mr Blair is seen to be as

slippery as an eel, Mr Hague as a curious Yorkshire phenomenon and

Charles Kennedy as too laid back for this political life. And you can

just about guarantee panic when ideology seems to have gone out of the

window. Just what do they believe in?



In these jumpy circumstances, what will matter during the next month

will not be spin doctors who have outstayed their usefulness. It will be

which party conveys an impression of substance, clarity, strength and

nerve. British voters are desperate to discover these qualities in our

land of fudge.



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