OPINION: Blair's PR has been entirely blinkered

We live in momentous times. And last week took the biscuit for

momentousness.



It revealed the strength and the weakness of a Government, which -

following the Clinton model - is the most PR conscious in our history.

It demonstrated that it is downhill all the way from now on for Tony

Blair, even though - barring the most horrendous accident - he looks

like winning his coveted second term. The reason is quite simple: his

obsession with PR has been entirely blinkered. In the end, it isn't what

you say that counts; it's what you do.



The strength of this Government - apart from its huge and compliant

majority - has been its adoption and adherence to Conservative spending

plans and financial discipline. This is enabling it to go into the

election with low inflation, low unemployment and sound public finance

(thanks also to much stealthy over-taxing). If 'it's the economy,

stupid' that counts - as Mr Clinton falsely maintained since Mr Bush is

in the White House - then Mr Blair is home and dry, as the polls

predict. We're all riding along on the crest of a boom, leave aside

farmers and now rural tourism. This is the first time a Labour

government can claim to be ending a Parliament with the economy in good

shape.



We should not underplay that achievement. But Labour's PR did not

concentrate on demonstrating its economic responsibility as a new and

formidable asset for the future. It also sought to persuade us that it

was, as promised, remedying every ill - in schools and hospitals, in

public transport, among the welfare-dependent and in curbing the

criminal - to the inevitable disillusionment of the populace and

especially traditional Labour voters.



Nobody thinks things are much better, except perhaps in primary

schools.



There is a sense of let down in all these areas, as well as on improving

the environment.



Moreover, the Government also set out to demonstrate it was ethically

different. Indeed, Mr Blair came to office pledging to 'clean up

politics'.



But his first four years are ending with his government looking far

sleazier than Mr Major's ever managed, with a positive catalogue in last

Sunday's newspapers of allegations of favours for the rich, the powerful

and the cronies. All this adds up to a Government which has promised the

earth and delivered very little, apart from a boom, scandal and the

promise - contained in last week's Budget - of a return to old-fashioned

Labour tax and spend.



Far from being a tribute to Mr Blair's PR flair, it is an advertisement

of his failure to look at things in the round and deliver joined-up

government where actions complement words. He should see Peter

Mandelson's demise as a warning that his cynical and facile PR does not

work. Otherwise, he faces an ever-more painful journey into the

political abyss.



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