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BY this time next year Britain may be on the eve of another general election. The speeches at the Labour Party's Manchester conference last weekend gave the impression of a party firming up the policies it will put into its election manifesto. The Prime Minister promised to bring forward by the summer new ideas on health, education and crime, with an emphasis on further investment and choice in public services and enhanced local control. Change is the key, said Mr Blair; the Labour Party cannot stand still - “Each generation, each epoch of our party will find its own version of New Labour. New Labour even in 1997 should not be the same as New Labour in 2004. There must be more radical change in health, education and crime in a New Labour prospectus that can carry our vision forward in a new and changing world.” Not everyone in Britain's public services will welcome this; schoolteachers, for instance, may wonder whether their world will ever settle down sufficiently for them to know what the curriculum and the examination structure will be two years hence. It was left to John Prescott to reflect some of these anxieties; he called for an end to“blue sky thinking” and asked for a moratorium on new ideas from think tanks. “Now is the time for doing and campaigning” said the Deputy Prime Minister, who may not impress the intellectuals among Mr Blair's advisors but brings a great deal of common sense to the party's thinking. The latest ICM poll published at the weekend showed Labour two points ahead of the Conservatives; Mr Howard will need a better range of policies than he has at the moment to close the gap.