Mark Steel: The moment you think of voting Labour, up pops the unregretful Tony Blair
There are many questions a population asks itself before a General Election, and the one that many people are asking before the one this year is, "Which of these rancid heaps of sewage will be slightly less repulsive than the other?"
Maybe that's the way it should be phrased on the ballot paper, to increase turn-out. .
This might be why the Tories can't climb decisively ahead of their unpopular, feuding hopeless opponents, because, like Labour, they're not even competently dreadful. For example, Cameron announced they would cut tax, then changed his mind three times, but said we should now vote Conservative because they still "aspired" to cut tax. Next week he'll say, "Last week I even had a dream about cutting tax. One of those really lucid ones it was. And that is the difference between us, because I bet Alistair Darling can't say that."
The only thing stopping their original promise, they say, is the economic conditions. I'm the same with my commitment to buy France. At the moment it could add to my debt burden and prove economically unsound, but it remains an aspiration and that's the main thing. There must be many people realising he doesn't seem to stand for anything, except outrage for reasons he can't decide.
A typical Cameron speech goes "Like you, I am fed up of all those things this government keeps doing. Ooo. I mean, have you seen him, that whatsisname. You know what they should have done? Well there's all sorts on the economy just for a start. And you can call me old-fashioned but that, quite frankly, is common sense. And as a Conservative, that is something I am committed to aspiring to put right."
His main problem must be that they've agreed with all Labour's most disastrous ideas, from the war in Iraq, to handing the economy over to the bankers. And whereas Labour had to confront their history to act like this, Cameron and his party went along with it automatically. But while cutting tax and attacking public spending is popular with long term Conservatives, most people don't approve of it, so he trumps normal politicians by making promises, then breaking them before the election's even started.
In the past a vote for Labour would at least have been a protest against such greed, even if the party didn't do much about it. But 15 years of grovelling to Hindujas and Murdochs and assorted bankers and being "intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich" have punctured that slightly, and now if you mentioned to someone under the age of 30 that Labour's origins were in fighting for the poor against the wealthy, they'd look at you as if you'd said something truly surreal, such as "Did you know the Church of England started out as an aquarium?"
But for the odd moment you might resign yourself to voting Labour, then up pops the unregretful Blair or you recall Mandelson on the yacht and you realise that's impossible. And there must be millions of people doing this, thinking "Well I can't vote for them so I'll opt for the others", until they remember the others and think the same back again, like if you were captured by a sadistic tribe that gave you the choice of being mauled by a leopard or buggered by a yak.
The nearest I come to this dilemma normally is when someone asks who I'd like to win when Chelsea are playing Manchester United, and for a moment I try to figure a way they could both lose, and then change the subject. But the electoral equivalent, of not voting, isn't appealing either, given the almighty battles that took place for the right to do so. So the problem of who to vote for has become one of those conundrums, like the puzzle of where the universe ends, that you can only think about for two minutes at a time or you start going fuzzy in the head.
One consequence of this is that each time a party gets publicity it does itself damage, as it reminds people how appalling they are. If the parties realise this is happening, during the election we'll see a five minute film of Gordon Brown telling us why we should vote Labour, then a voice will say "That was a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Conservative Party."
So if Peter Mandelson is the shrewd election campaigner he claims to be, he'll take every penny of the campaign fund and spend it on sending the whole Labour Party to Mexico for the next four months, and not come back until the day after the vote, or if he's really astute, five years after, and they'll have won the election after this as well.