Alex Massie

Labour’s Manifesto: The Shortest Abdication Note in History?

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And so it begins. At last. The phoney war is over and now the grapeshot will be flying thick and fast. There will be casualties aplenty, decency, honesty and your patience amongst 'em. I'm sticking to my view, which is neither especially daring nor unconventional, that the Conservatives will win and finish with a majority of 30 or so seats. Sticking, I say, even though obviously I reserve the right to change my mind several times between now and polling day.

For ages now - or at least it feels like ages - I've been arguing that whatever doubts one may reasonably have about Cameron the Tories appear to have passed the important test of Not Seeming Grotesquely Ill-Prepared for Government. True, there's a lack of depth and sometimes, one suspects, an absence of rigour on the Tory front bench and true too their performance during the phoney war has not always been especially reassuring. But what, on a national rather than local* level, is the alternative?

The Guardian have a copy, they say, of Labour's manifesto. Lucky them. So what's in it? According to the paper, this:

It is being stressed that the manifesto will offer progressive solutions for tough times, including reforms of public services that match Tony Blair at his boldest.

New proposals contained in the draft, obtained by the Guardian, include:

• Provisions for the management of inefficient police forces to be taken over by efficient forces. "Where service is not good enough, it will be taken over by the best," the draft says.

• Simultaneous referendums on a new voting system for the Commons and a 100% elected second chamber.

• A national youth service alongside votes at 16.

• Rights for football supporters to take over football clubs.

• A living wage of £7.60 in Whitehall, funded by a cap on the salaries of the most highly paid public sector employees.

Really? Is that it? Surely there's more to the Labour manifesto than this? Right? This, my fellow subjects, is being touted as the basis of a platform for "national renewal" no less and never mind the obvious thought that if the country really needs renewing then perhaps that task should be left to the party that wasn't in power in the long years that led us to the sorry point at which Project National Renewal had to be launched.

So Labour's message seems to be: Never mind that everything has been buggered-up. None of that can plausibly be blamed on us and anyway think how much worse it will be if the evil Tories get in.

Now a cynic might say that the Tory message amounts to little more than: Look at how Labour has buggered everything up. Vote for us and we'll do things slightly differently.

But that's not quite fair. The Tories do have ideas (for England anyway) and some of those ideas have some real potential. What do Labour offer us? A manifeso that, on today's evidence anyway, is trivial when it isn't bizarre and irrelevent when it isn't contradictory. Are we seriously supposed to believe that Gordon Brown has been converted to the cause of public sector reform?

Are we supposed to view the ownership of football clubs as a matter of national concern that's the fit and proper business of government? Votes for people too young to purchase a pint of ale or a packet of cigarettes? A national "youth service" whatever that may be? All these are "policies" retrieved from bins marked "Don't. Be. Silly."

And while there are those who think we need to change the voting system and some who'd like an elected Lords I've never heard a "normal" person suggest that these are matters of any, let alone pressing, concern.

Doubtless there is more to Labour than this. One had better hope so, for their sakes as well as ours. Otherwise this is the shortest, strangest abdication note in history.

It's important that the opposition be asked "Well what would you do?" but that's a question that needs to be asked of the incumbents too. At the moment, if the Guardian's report is anything to go by, Labour's answer is not much better than "Don't ask us, ask the Tories." And that, while an answer of sorts, probably isn't quite good enough.

It's going to be a long month, stuffed with mendacity and knavery and much of it will try everyone's patience. But it will be fun too. Right? Of course it might be.

*AS I've said before, I think folk should vote for the best candidate in their constituency and let the national chips fall where they will.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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