I help Dave swat up on health cuts

IT defies belief - on the day three senior Cabinet members became embroiled in allegations of either incompetence or sleaze, Labour's spin machine e-mailed photographs of its Dave the Chameleon spoof character reading my regular Friday column in the East Anglian Daily Times.

IT defies belief - on the day three senior Cabinet members became embroiled in allegations of either incompetence or sleaze, Labour's spin machine e-mailed photographs of its Dave the Chameleon spoof character reading my regular Friday column in the East Anglian Daily Times.

Naturally I'm pleased Dave likes the EADT - it will keep him up to date on what the people of this part of the region are thinking about the current state of politics. He'll now know all about draconian cuts in our health service, anger over ever rising levels of council tax, and the nonsense of trying to glue six counties together and call the result the East of England.

Of course, the person the chameleon character is lampooning, Conservative Party leader David Cameron, is an avid reader of the paper, as he keeps abreast of hospital closures in what is a very real funding crisis in Suffolk's NHS service.

Dave the Chameleon was amusing on the day he was launched. He was created to point out that Mr Cameron changes his colour depending on the type of voter he's trying to attract - red for Labour, orange for Liberal Democrat - while underneath he remains a typical, true blue Tory.


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But the joke soon palled when Labour changed him to green. A government, whose environmental policies are, to say the least, less than impressive, is in no position to mock the genuine attempt of the new Tory leader in trying to make his party make green issues top of the political agenda.

Mr Cameron cycles around London so Labour mocks him by seating Dave on a bike. I'm afraid the joke's on Labour - most people when asked would applaud the Tory leader cycling in our traffic choked capital rather than driving a car

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A spokesman for Mr Cameron's office said the repetitive use of the chameleon character showed that Labour had run out of ideas. “It's had good media coverage, but we believe Dave is now working to our advantage. People are now looking at our polices and like what they find.”

The e-mailed photos were sent out at 17.33 on Wednesday, just minutes before the main television evening news bulletins with their blanket coverage of Home Secretary Charles Clarke's admission that foreign rapists, murders and paedophiles have been released from jail rather than being deported, Health Secretary Patricia “The NHS has just had its best week” Hewitt's humiliation at the nurses conferences, and details of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's two year affair with his diary secretary.

Incidentally, this is the same John Prescott who in October 1996 had Labour in fits with these one-liners: “I'm told some Tory MPs think ethics is a county near Middlesex. For too many Tories, morals means not getting caught out.” And “They are up to their necks in sleaze . . . the best slogan they could think up for their conference next week is 'Life's better under the Tories.' Sounds to me like one of Steve Norris's chat up lines.”

People have likened the current state of the Blair government to the declining years of John Major. To me it seems more like 1990 - if Labour changes leader, it will get a significant bounce in the polls, just like the Tories did when they sacked Margaret Thatcher and then won the next general election.

ALMOST unnoticed, eight Conservative MPs - among them Harwich's Douglas Carswell - left Home Secretary Charles Clarke's prisons fiasco statement on Wednesday to slip into a Commons committee room to endorse a campaign to take Britain out of the European Union.

Almost certainly, they have scuppered their chances of joining David Cameron's frontbench team because he had advised Tory backbenchers not to get involved in the Better Off Out campaign, which is also backed by the UK Independence Party.

Mr Cameron said it was incompatible for any MP to advocate leaving the EU when it was party policy to stay in. The Better Off Out movement, launched by the Freedom Association, believes that Britain's future “lies in taking our place with the whole world, not in the isolationism and protectionism of the European Union.”

Mr Carswell said: “I have been arguing for an independent Britain - trading with Europe, but governing ourselves. Many people in Britain are now starting to realise that the European Union is not working for us. It is only right and proper that there are now MPs in Parliament prepared to say what people in England are thinking.

“I have often been attacked and heavily criticised by the political Establishment for arguing for British independence - but I remain unapologetic and determined to carry on the fight for our right of self-government.”

COMMONS Speaker Michael Martin has backed Chelmsford West Tory MP Simon Burns in his complaint that the Department of Health gave information requested by Mr Burns to a journalist before it was sent to him.

Mr Martin, rebuking health minister Rosie Winterton, said: “Parliamentary questions are not to be regarded as just one sort of request for information. They are a key element in the accountability of ministers to Parliament, and must be treated as such.

“In this case, the reply given to the journalists was more than simply consistent with the reply given to the hon. Member: it was identical.”

Mr Burns said it was “quite disgraceful” that the DoH press office should have given a local journalist the answer to his priority parliamentary question 24 hours before he received it.

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