Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Impossible Dream

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Impossible Dream

Article excerpt

IN PRESENTATION TERMS at least, the Conservatives have made a better start to the election campaign than Labour. True, this was not difficult to achieve. Mr Tony Blair's opening performance, announcing the date of the election surrounded by hymn-singing schoolgirls was, as we said at the time, simply nauseating, By contrast, Mr William Hague's launch of the Tory manifesto yesterday, stealing a march on his rivals, seemed slick and professional. As far as rhetorical skills are concerned, he is clearly going to be as accomplished a performer on the hustings as he has been in the Commons. But, having said this, all but the most committed Conservative voters will find their spirits sink - and their cynicism rise once they delve into the detail of the manifesto. The blatancy of promising the country the impossible, in the form of higher spending on public services plus lower income tax, plus cuts in indirect taxes too, makes it read a little like the proverbial suicide letter: since they are destined for at least another four years in opposition and will not be called upon to deliver, they can promise pretty much what they like. More contemptible still is the undertaking to cut the duty on petrol by six pence per litre. This piece of populist ingratiation harks back to the petrol crisis - the only period in four years when the Tories outstripped Labour in the polls. The irresponsibility of pandering to the illusion that a country like Britain can afford cheap petrol, either economically or environmentally, belies both the manifesto's title - 'A Time for Common Sense' - and the view that, despite everything, William Hague is a decent, God-fearing fellow. As for his pledges to reduce the burden of income tax, the lack of clarity about where the money would come from, let alone the uncertain economic conjuncture, renders them scarcely worthy of comment. The manifesto is full of similar insincerities, obscurities and sleights of hand, not least the undertaking to relieve teachers and doctors of their burden of bureaucracy, which many amongst them will recall began to build up years ago, when Mrs Thatcher was in office. …

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