Bill's Archived Comments

Week beginning Monday, 20th November 2000

"Don't Mention the Tax Burden" - UK Treasury Instruction to Ministers

Andrew Smith, the Treasury Chief Secretary, is reported as having instructed Ministers not to use the phrase 'tax burden' because it is considered dangerous as it suggests that families and businesses are being forced to carry a greater weight under Labour.

However, wishful thinking cannot disguise the truth! Just to set the record straight, it is a fact that over the past three years this Government, which poses as a tax-cutting administration, has actually raised the tax burden in this country from 35.5% of GDP to 38.5% (Office of National Statistics figures).

The sad truth is that families and businesses ARE being forced to carry a greater weight under Labour.

New Labour - Old Labour: Same Difference!

So Robin Cook and Gordon Brown don't like each other - I agree with BOTH of them. This government increasingly sounds and behaves like earlier Labour governments with Ministers' squabbles over their ministerial territory. Brown's attempts to dictate policy in areas completely outwith his area of responsibility, which seems to have provoked an outbreak of pique from Robin Cook and his minions over the policies to be pursued at the forthcoming Nice summit are but the latest manifestation. A Cook aide is reported as saying: "Gordon Brown should try to remember he is not the Prime Minister and does not lead the Labour Party". One wonders if Tony Blair is aware of this! It brings back happy memories of earlier 'spats' involving such luminaries as Harold Wilson, George Brown, Barbara Castle and Tony Benn. It is only a matter of time, in my view, before this current crop of deceivers and second-raters is turfed out by an exasperated British electorate.

Conservative "Electability" - A Mixed Picture

The good news - Ann Widdecombe has finally admitted that her 'zero tolerance' drug policy was, ahem, not a success (interview on BBC News 24). On the other hand the Party Leader, William Hague, is reported as having said at the Party's Policy Forum on Britain's Faith Communities, held recently at a church in Westminster, "I would like to thank those religious leaders who are fighting to retain Section 28. I am delighted that representatives of the Christian Institute (*) and Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Great Britain are here with us today.

Another mixed signal. On a positive note, Michael Portillo's Conference speech, when he stated: "We are for all Britons: black Britons, British Asians, white Britons. Britain is a country of rich diversity... We are for people whatever their sexual orientation. The Tory party isn't merely a party of tolerance: it's a party willing to accord every one of its citizens respect." - to say this section of his speech was greeted with a lukewarm response by Conference delegates would be a gross understatement, sadly.

And another mixed signal: in a speech to a conference of publicans last Thursday, Michael Portillo is reported as congratulating the licensed trade for identifying new markets: "The industry has opened its eyes to today's Britain and become more friendly to women and to families. It has not been scared of the gay market and the power of the pink pound." The Lord Tebbit, however, reacted to this by saying "I don't see it winning many votes for us." The publicans themselves had varying reactions, but it is perhaps significant that companies operating large networks of pubs were generally more receptive to Portillo's comments. Indeed one representative of such a firm said: "We were pleased to hear the comments. It is fair to say we have cashed in on the pink pound; 23 of our 3,000 pubs are deliberately aimed at the gay community", whereas another publican who thought Portillo's comments 'worthless', nevertheless said "Michael Portillo was saying that the homophobic attitude of pubs in the Eighties is not too prominent now, but I think that's true of society as a whole. Nowadays pubs are more open." Did this publican really NOT KNOW that he was actually supporting Portillo; one wonders if a logic chip requires replacement, somewhere.

Whether the Conservative Party's route back to electoral success is really to be based on adaptation to changes in British society, something which has ensured that the Conservative party has been THE most successful party in any democracy over the past 200 years, or whether it is to be based on appealing to people like Lord Tebbit, Ann Widdecombe or currying favour with the zealots of the Christian Institute stripe, such as Baroness Young, is an interesting intellectual debate, no doubt, but it saddens (and angers!) me that the present leader, William Hague, seems to be leading the party down such an electoral cul-de-sac. Until the average age of membership can be lowered, and substantially,  by adopting policies likely to gain the support of more younger people, I doubt very much whether a Conservative government is a realistic prospect any time soon.

(*) The so-called 'Christian' Institute is a deeply sinister organisation, which receives funding and logistical assistance from extremist right-wing American organisations whose 'Christianity' seems to be a throwback to the mentality of the Inquisition.

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