Gales View  (June 4th 2008)

If I were a Labour Member of Parliament that had supported the abolition of the 10p tax rate, gone on to vote against its re-introduction, supported Chancellor Darling's proposals for an autumn fuel duty rise and written in glowing terms in support of the budget that contained that measure then I think that I might just not want to draw attention to those facts!

Of course, desperate situations demand desperate measures and the imminent collapse of a slender parliamentary majority concentrates the mind.  Trying to pretend, however, that you are suddenly the motorist's champion and that you have the answer to the hard-taxed fuel-buyer's prayer is unlikely, I fear, to fool many of the people for much of the time!

Not that the motorist is not hard-pressed and hard-taxed as petrol and diesel prices at the pumps rise like inflation in a banana republic.  Indeed, when I wrote recently of the hardship caused to many of the least well off in the country following the abolition of the 10-pence tax band a constituent berated me for not concentrating on the fuel-price issue which, he rightly pointed out, would impact upon every household and every business in the land and cause grief to still more of those on low incomes than suffered as a result of Prime Minister Brown's tax gaffe.

The problem, of course, is that having tried to buy off political rebellion over the tax issue and underwritten Northern Rock The Treasury is strapped for cash and unlikely to want to forego any windfall revenues arising from VAT on higher fuel prices.  And that, I fear is the rod of the government's own making that is likely to beat upon our backs and make anything other than minor gestures in the direction of fuel poverty a pipe-dream.

While the back-bench turkeys await Christmas there are, if I may horribly mix the metaphor, other chickens coming home to roost.  The smoking ban, shoved through parliament by the roundheads of the House, has had an even worse than anticipated effect on pubs and clubs and restaurants. Those outlets, already suffering as belts tighten in the wake of falling house prices, rising household bills and the "not-the-recession", needed this dose of sanctimonious Puritanism like a kick in the groin.

When these small businesses - for that is what they are - close and when the people that they employ find themselves out of work remember, please, that some of us not only advocated a separate regime for the clubs but went further and called for smoking and non-smoking licences so that people and employees might have that wonderful freedom that used to be known as choice.

It is one of the harsh realities of political life that for governments to change politicians have to lose their jobs.  Many who remember what was, for those of us on the government benches of the day, the grisly demise of scores of good and hard-working parliamentary colleagues in the general election of 1997 will take curiously little comfort from the projected expulsion of very many of those now in government.  It is not a pretty sight but if, at sometime within the next couple of years, we are to seize the chance to turn around the fortunes of our country and its people then it will have to happen.  In the meantime we should treat with caution the suggestion that "New Labour" is finished.  New Labour was never a reality but rather a marketing ploy designed to deliver the hitherto unelectable to office. A return to real and practical politics rather than slick advertising and positioning might be a very good thing

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