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Friday, 11 May, 2001, 21:38 GMT

Tattooists and tax

Mark Mardell

There are political obsessive who like a good hurrumph as much as the next man (they do tend to be men) about how THINGS ARE NOT WHAT THEY WERE.

Elections, in particular are not what they were when they were a lad.


" ...the most interesting thing that has happened today is that Cherie Blair on a trip to Chatham signed a fifteen-year-old boy's chest "
Content for so long to ramble on about stumps, door knocking and the sanctity of the open public meeting, they now have a new wide open target.

"Dear Sir, who can imagine Mrs Gladstone picking up her fountain pen and engraving the naked torso of a young Kentish male?"

For the most interesting thing that has happened today is that Cherie Blair on a trip to Chatham signed a fifteen-year-old boy's chest. Well, you've got to admit its different.

Some old traditions

Tony Blair, generally a more conservative type than his spouse, hit back in the name of tradition, decency and the British way, flicked to page 3 of "Book of rules for aspirant politicians" paragraph 5 (cf 'Cliches, avoidance of' but also 'Post modernism' and 'Irony') and actually kissed a baby.

Something else is going according to the old rule book as well. We're having a row about tax.

I've just been told that there was a big behind the scenes argument about whether or not Labour should promise not to put up income tax, and an even bigger row about not putting up the top rate of tax.

Unfortunately my scoop is four years out of date.

That was then this is now. Then, Gordon Brown was worried about boxing himself in. Now, the argument has moved on.

'Pass the smelling salts'

I am told the manifesto promise will be repeated almost word for word from the last time and newspaper gossip that there has been a big disagreement this time is wide of the mark.

In fact the promise has been there from the very first draft of the manifesto and not a comma or full stop has been changed.

Well, pass the smelling salts, pick me up off the floor but who is surprised?

When Labour first made the promise, five months before they were elected, it was a huge symbol of the manner in which Tony Blair's New Labour party was different to any other model seen before.

No pips would squeak, no one would flee the country clutching their bank balance.

Millbank Towers

So for Labour not to repeat this promise would be staggering, a huge story that would quite rightly dominate the campaign.

The Conservatives would say it was proof positive that the basic rate was going to shoot up on 8 June.

The Labour Left would go around crowing and preening in a way that would cause the workers at Millbank towers to jump off the ledges of that tall and unattractive building.

The Labour campaign would collapse in acrimony as we all tried to find out how much income tax was going to increase. 1p? 2p? 20p?

"Don't the people of Britain deserve an answer, Chancellor ?"

Insatiable media

So why not answer a straight question?

Mr Blair played coy on live TV even when a copy of the newspaper story was waved under his nose.


" Labour just don't want too many bells and whistles hung round this particular promise and are rather surprised it's got this level of attention "
He insisted, like an American teenager who's signed the "True Love Waits" vow of celibacy until their wedding day, that we must be patient, stop fumbling and hold on for the manifesto, while fluttering his eyelids so that we all know that he's been round the back of the bike shed with the Guardian, and it's all true.

Labour just don't want too many bells and whistles hung round this particular promise and are rather surprised it's got this level of attention.

For the way of the media is once we get an answer we move on to the next question.

And the next question, which William Hague is asking as well is what about other taxes? Why not make a promise on them?

All this frustrates the Labour Party who think the Conservatives have got away with blue murder with their tax plans.

To make their point they've put out a new poster picturing William Hague as a school boy with slogan on the lines of "He hasn't done his sums".


" I have an idea for them which involves the Prime Minister's wife, a tattooist, a shirtless Gordon Brown and a great deal of pain "
Perhaps the cleverest and dirtiest ad of the campaign so far, hiding beneath the obvious message about the spending plans a reminder of Mr Hague's speech to the Conservative conference, a reminder of his relative youth and inexperience.

But still Labour aren't focusing the attention they would like on key parts of the Conservative manifesto.

I have an idea for them which involves the Prime Minister's wife, a tattooist, a shirtless Gordon Brown and a great deal of pain.

I'll collect my commission later.



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