OPINION: The Tories have failed in opposition

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

the press.

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?

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