Did the Tories spend more than new Labour?

You are much too kind to Tony Blair and, for that matter, rather unfair to his predecessors, including Margaret Thatcher and John Major (Leader, 11 September), when you say that he "has at last accepted . . . that Britain has suffered for decades from under-investment in its public services", citing as supporting evidence "the summer's comprehensive spending review, with its generous allocation to education, health and transport".

In fact, the spending review records not only that, in 1999, public expenditure as a fraction of GDP reached its lowest point for 40 years, but also that, in 2003, it will still be 8 per cent lower than in 1993; that spending on education will barely return to Tory levels; that health is only now returning to those levels (falling far short of the Continental target promised by Blair on a TV chat show); and that transport will come nowhere near the expenditure rates of the past.

To an old Labour voter, it is baffling that Tory spokesmen are prevented by their anti-tax-and-spend rhetoric from making these points - from pointing out that it was they who presided over the huge expansion of secondary and tertiary education in the 1970s and 1980s, Thatcher herself playing a major part in comprehensivisation as Education Secretary from 1970-74, or from reminding us that, in their time, inequality was statistically less.

Maybe there is a case for voting Tory at the next election, on the grounds that, if they win, the Civil Service will, on the historical evidence, be freer to run the country, paying no attention whatsoever to the rhetoric of William Hague. After all, even on Europe, where the Tories' announced policy is most divergent, their record in practice is easily as good, to a Europhile eye, as Labour's. Monetary union was planned with the full participation of Thatcher's ministers, even if they now claim that they did not read the documents.

W Stanners
Over, Cambridge

This article first appeared in the 18 September 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Let the poor seek a place in the sun