Labour Calls Battle Stations

Article excerpt

Talking shops Homeward bound WITH THE unveiling of Labour's election slogan, a poll this spring seems not merely likely but almost certain. The Government's choice of words is revealing: "Britain Forward Not Back", at once an identification of Labour with patriotic self-interest and a suggestion that a vote for the Tories would mean a return to the Thatcher/Major years. But the bullish presentation of the slogan yesterday by Labour election chief Alan Milburn also hints that the Government is rattled by voters' mood of disdain for politics. The themes of this election are apparent already. Mr Milburn conceded that people were "angry" about immigration, crime and the war in Iraq. On immigration, the Government is now planning to charge foreign workers up to [pounds sterling]200 to get their families into Britain. The move is intended to discourage the thousands of individuals who appeal against decisions to refuse their families entry, but it is plainly also designed to counter the Conservatives' strong focus on the issue.

Similarly, Mr Milburn's promise that the Prime Minister will be spending more time in Britain rather than abroad amounts to an acknowledgment that Mr Blair's heavy international commitments have made it seem that he has neglected the domestic agenda. The immediate cause of the Government's discomfort is not hard to see: a mood of popular disillusionment has been worsened for Mr Blair by a series of mishaps, such as David Blunkett's resignation. The controversy this week over website images of Mr Howard branded anti-Semitic has been less surefooted than might be expected for a Government that still commands a huge majority. And, as we report today, the issue alienated prominent Jewish party donors. But Labour's new campaign initiative should remind the Conservatives that, whatever the many pitfalls of office, the party is still a formidable election-fighting machine. With its ruthless emphasis on the Conservatives' past record, the Government is now confronting the Tories head-on. It is another indication of a bruising election campaign ahead.

THE CARAVAN of international summiteers rolls into London today for a meeting of finance ministers from the G7, the group of leading industrialised nations. …