05/05/05: THE ELECTION: Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking? BRIAN READE ON HOWARD'S END Michael Howard Has Stooped to Crawling in a Sewer He Should Never Be Allowed to Rise From

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THE temptation to draw blood from Spinocchio's ever-lengthening nose today is immense.

It's the first General Election in my life that I've entertained the thought of not voting for a Labour leader. And it's not simply about Tony Blair's hideous blunder over Iraq. Because his pivotal role in that deplorable war was more than just a blunder.

When he refused to contemplate being swayed by his own people, it cut right to the core of Blair's being.

A Labour Prime Minister ignored us because he's not one of us and his unstinting, deceitful support for a right-wing American hawk exposed him for what he is.

A chameleon as phoney as the aitches he drops on daytime TV. A power-pleaser in awe of wealth and influence and standing ovations in Congress.

An actor whose scene-stealing trick to gain centre-stage with the world's kingmakers is to promise delivery of his people to their elitist dreams whatever the cost to principle or human life.

Conning us into believing we should illegally invade a sovereign state that offered us no threat should be enough not merely to say "don't vote for Blair", but also "let's get him handcuffed".

And any Labour voter who cannot stomach giving him approval has my full sympathy.

I've thought like you too. But when it comes to the crunch I can't treat this election as a referendum on Iraq or one politician's integrity.

I can't abandon the party I've supported all my life at such a crucial time. I'd like to cut Tony Blair's nose but I know if I did I would be spiting my own face.

Ultimately, I am more concerned about my children's futures and the Labour heartland they are growing up in than I am about Blair's. On the day Blair was first elected, May 1, 1997, I wrote these words in these pages:

"Eighteen years of Tory rule transformed this nation into a land where the only god was wealth, where self-interest was all, where entire communities were laid waste, where money was allowed to buy life chances and determine death chances, where ruthless employers could cream off huge profits while treating their workers like cart-horses, where unemployment became an economic indicator to be tampered with, and the Union Jack a flag of convenience for every nationalist bigot."

Well, given half a chance, the Tories will drag us back to that desperate state, because that is the kind of land they want to dwell in.

And under Michael Howard your communities would be awash with even more fear and loathing than Thatcher spawned.

I HAVE never felt so sickened at the campaign of a major British political party as I have of Howard's relentlessly cynical pandering to the nation's deepest prejudices.

We all have prejudices. White or black, Muslim or Christian. We all have an instinctive distrust of other cultures threatening our identity and space. It's why man has always gone to war.

It's not religion in Northern Ireland that has stirred hatred for centuries. It's a fear of identities being swamped.

But we live in a rapidly changing, complex world. If you colonise large tracts of Asia and Africa, start wars against oppressors like Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban, help bring down communist governments across Eastern Europe and allow new countries to join your economic community, you can't complain if some of their people come here to seek a better life by working in the land of their wonderful liberators.

No British government could - or should - shut the nation's borders and Howard knows that.

Yet still he tries to win power by using racist innuendo. The carefully-loaded logic behind his "are you thinking what we're thinking" message is "nudge, nudge, wink, wink, too many darkies and gypsies live here, we're with you on that, but we can't say it, because political correctness has gone mad. …