Tony Blair is up to 26 points ahead in the polls and, on that
evidence, heading for perhaps a bigger landslide than in 1997. Even
allowing for the Rees-Mogg phenomenon, which argues that polls
consistently underestimate Tory support by up to ten points, the Prime
Minister looks like securing the full second term he covets. But do you
believe the polls? More to the point, does Mr Blair? I doubt it.
The polls would be entirely credible if Labour could rely solely on its
economic performance. It can legitimately claim it has not dissipated
its golden legacy from John Major and could reasonably argue it had
built upon it, but for higher taxation and miles more red tape.
Moreover, the Tories have not formed an effective opposition after an
initial year of wound-licking. They have not supported William Hague,
who is a sort of Lone Ranger. They have let the country down, shirking
their immense opportunity to oppose.
Mr Blair has been hot on initiatives - roughly one a day - but dead cold
on delivery. Only primary education seems to have improved. The rest of
education, health, welfare dependency, crime, public transport and the
environment are possibly worse after his four years. He is also hell
bent on joining the euro, against the wishes of the people. The
countryside was in revolt before foot-and-mouth. The Americans are
suspicious of him over the proposed Euro-army. And claims that his
government is far sleazier than the Tories are beginning to appear in
Mr Blair would be an amazing prime minister if he didn't recognise all
this. And after Al Gore's defeat he will be very wary of believing
Clinton's 'It's the economy, stupid' rule for winning elections. He may
well also feel there will be a penalty to pay if he goes ahead with an
election on 3 May in a countryside still ravaged by foot-and-mouth
disease. But, with all the economic uncertainties, he may conclude he
will on balance never have a better chance than on that date.
If so, it is a chilling indictment of Conservative opposition. It is no
use complaining that the media are biased against you. As any PRO can
tell them, you make your own press. The media are helpless in the face
of stories. And it is no use saying people don't know what you stand
for. You tell them.
The Tories have passed up their chance this time to offer the public a
unique product only they could possibly put forward: a low tax, low
spending, high efficiency, less regulation, personal responsibility
party committed to less government. Don't tell me the public are dying
to pay more taxes for better public services.
The ratepayers of Bristol and Croydon have knocked that idea firmly on
the head. They want lower taxes and better public services. The Tories
are denying the public a choice. Can Mr Blair lose?