TIME FOR THE TORIES TO PACK THEIR BAGS

Tribune leader, 3 April 1992

When the election campaign started, the Conservatives were confidently predicting that they would win an overall majority of 20. Today, as even they admit off the record, the best they can hope for is to be the largest party, clinging to power with the help of the Ulster Unionists.
Even though most Liberal Democrat voters are former Tories and, whatever Paddy Ashdown may say about being prepared to go into coalition with either of the main parties if the terms are right, the Liberal Democrats know that their credibility would collapse if they agreed to shore up the Tories. The Tory campaign has been alternately lack-lustre and filthy. Their senior politicians look either dull and uninspiring or dangerously mad. This worn-out, dis­credited Government knows that it needs a miracle to win on April 9.
So far, everything in the campaign has gone accord­ing to plan for Labour, apart from last week’s party election broadcast on health. It is now apparent that Labour walked unwittingly into a well-planned Tory ambush, exacerbating its difficulties by not making it clear from the start that the film was a representation of a typical case rather than a straight documentary about a particular one. Although the ambush was even­tually revealed for what it was, Labour’s discomfort was a timely reminder that too much hype can damage a perfectly good case.
This week, Labour has been emphasising its positive agenda for ending the recession, introducing a fair tax­ation system and improving education and the welfare state.
It is right to do so: these are the bread-and-butter issues that will determine most voters’ choices. But, as polling day approaches, it would be foolish for Labour not to give some prominence to its policies on Europe, aid to the Third World, the environment and constitutional reform. With the exception of devolution for Scotland, none of these is likely to swing more than a few middle-class votes – but those few votes could be enough to return the majority Labour government that Britain so desperately needs.

Fair shares for the poor

Nothing illustrates better the Tories’ contempt for working people than their attitude to Labour’s pro­posal for a statutory minimum wage of £3.40 an hour. The Labour plan is a modest attempt to improve the lot of those 5 million or so workers, many of them women and part-timers and many of them unorganised, who are currently on scandalously low rates of pay. Its main problem is that it will be very difficult to police and enforce except in larger unionised companies.
Yet the Tories have rubbished the minimum wage, claiming that it will cost billions to introduce in the Na­tional Health Service, that it will increase inflation and will lead to 2 million job losses. Independent ana­lysts disagree on all three counts, with some reckoning that total job losses would be as low as 4,000 in three years, and there is no evidence that a statutory mini­mum wage has had any detrimental effects in any Euro­pean Community country that has one. Why do the To­ries not admit that their real concern is the profits of low-wage employers, some of whom, particularly those in retailing and the hotel and catering trades, are among their biggest backers?
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