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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 13:54 GMT
The blurring of politics

Shaun Woodward: Following the middle way

By political correspondent Nick Assinder

Shaun Woodward switched political parties claiming he had not left the Tory party, but it had parted company with him.

He claimed the Conservatives had moved so far to the right under William Hague that he now felt happier with New Labour.

Tony Blair's party, he suggested, had moved so far into the middle ground that it was now the natural home for many Tories.

The implication was that any number of "Old" Tory MPs felt the same and might be persuaded to follow his example.

Ever since Tony Blair came to power he has faced accusations from the left that New Labour is virtually indistinguishable from the Tory party.

He has apparently been happy to take those comparisons. He constantly steals the old Conservative slogan to claim Labour is now the One Nation party.

And, of course, he adopted the previous government's spending programme virtually lock, stock and barrel.

Tory policies

And there is no doubt that much of the policies adopted by Tony Blair since the election - on privatisation, law and order and elements of social security spending - could have come from Tory ministers.

There are even one or two - such as giving the Bank of England independence, cutting benefits to the disabled and single parents - that Tory governments probably would not have dared introduce.

Gordon Brown's budgets, despite containing some redistribute elements, have also been marked by the sort of "prudence and caution" than was previously seen as alien to the Labour party.

That has led many trades unionists and left-wingers to express disillusion at the lack of extra cash for the public services and to claim Mr Blair is a traitor to the movement.

Labour will point to issues like the social chapter and the national minimum wage to show the huge differences between the two parties.

Meanwhile, the Tories have been redesigning their policies and, on many social issues, can appear as liberal as New Labour.

No ideology

Shadow ministers also like to claim that Labour has not changed its spots at all and is just as "Old" as it ever was.

And more often than not nowadays, the arguments are not ideological - for example, on taxation - but technical, or even managerial, with each side claiming they can do the same thing as the other, only better.

It does appear that, while Tony Blair's "project" to create a new centre-left grouping may have failed, politics has converged.

There is one glaring exception, of course - Europe. Both parties have their dissenters but the gulf between Labour and the Tories is huge and has widened over the euro.

And there is not telling how that gulf may develop between now and the next election.

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See also:
19 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Fallout grows over Tory turncoat
20 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Woodward in his own words
20 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Labour hopes of Tory split

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