It's been an undistinguished start to an election campaign, by any measure, with all three main parties tying themselves up in Gordian knots of hypocrisy. The Tories are going potty trying to drop Labour in it with an attack on the party's proposed rise in National Insurance payments. They are obviously right that National Insurance rises are no way to go about reviving the economy, but we very much doubt that the alternative of increasing taxes on the rich would go down a treat at Conservative Central Office. It doesn't even wash with Gordon Brown. But, perhaps, the Tories have another alternative.They certainly have no shortage of creative thinking. It must be counted an act of total originality to recruit Corus chief executive Kirby Adams to their campaign fighting NI rises. Nothing else could account for choosing the chief executive of a company that has just thrown thousands out of work in Redcar and trashed the livelihoods of an entire community, to sign up for a campaign to "save jobs." That's certainly original. It bears all the hallmarks of some dimwitted Central Office apparatchik who wouldn't know a proper job if it stood up and bit him. And then there's the Lib Dems, bless their little cotton socks. Strong on words, this lot, but light on delivery.
Nick Clegg tried his hand out at bashing Labour and the Tories over their weasel words. "Believing any promises from them on political reform is a bit like accepting a consumer service guarantee from Del Boy - don't believe it, they are trying to treat you like fools," he said. Right as far as it goes, perhaps, but coming from Mr Clegg it's more than a little bit strong. Who on earth is going to believe a Lib Dem? That's the party that claims that it said the Iraq war was wrong and opposed it - right up until it started, at which point they suddenly shut their collective mouths in the interests of "national unity." What was wrong became sacrosanct, at least until it was all over, at which point they restarted their criticisms. But where is the truth? Go back to the Liberal Democrat conference in September 2002. Delegates did not oppose the war. The conference set out the conditions that would make war acceptable to the party- none of these conditions were met but the party supported the war anyway. So we ask again: Who on earth is going to believe a Lib Dem? And then there's the Labour Party. Prime Minister Gordon Brown lashed out at the Tories over their position on NI rises and their intention to stop them. "We cannot," he proclaimed grandly, "cut our way to recovery."
To issue this proclamation, he heaved himself ponderously out of his front-bench seat next to his old mate and Chancellor Alistair Darling, the man who has declared that, in the event of Labour winning the next election, he would be starting a round of cuts next year that would make Margaret Thatcher look like granny bountiful. Exactly a month ago, over a quarter of a million of Mr Brown's civil servants walked out on strike over his government's plans to cut their redundancy payments package, a package which was important to them because of Labour plans to hack back over 100,000 Civil Service jobs. And, in another place, front-bench colleague Lord Mandelson was smugly contemplating the massive cuts in education budgets that he had introduced a matter of weeks ago. We cannot cut our way to recovery. Indeed. So the only question for Mr Brown is: "Why the hell are you trying, then?" Yes, the election's under way. And, just for once, it would be nice to avoid wading through a sea of hypocrisy and right-wing detritus to survive it.