The past few days have once again revealed an unattractive side of politics which would offend voters more if the failing wasn't widely shared by the electorate. It is that willingness to whip up public feeling against easy targets while keeping heads safely down where There is even short-term risk.

I say short-term because a spin doctor as cute as Alastair Campbell could turn the issue We are talking about here into something We are all concerned about: cures for cancer. That is supposed to be electorally popular, is not it? But first, the easy targets. Did you notice how Tony Blair's spokesman was quick to express the prime minister's horror over the Kilshaws' twins, the ones adopted (briefly) on the Internet?

None of his business you might say, except that Mr Blair's father, Leo Snr, the illegitimate child of feckless actors, was adopted in infancy by a Glasgow shipyard worker's family which seems to have done a good job. So he has understandably strong feelings to share. Hence the new bill to improve our adoption record (as bad as our cancer record).

But hunting, too? It is obvious that Mr Blair has a mild distaste for the sport, but not so strong that he feels the need to vote on it. He didn't last week. Yet, in contrast to his usual consensual style (witness NHS reforms), he keeps stirring it up against the 'forces of conservatism' which support it. Why?

My guess is that It is a cheap political target against which to whip up Labour voters - just like the Lords, which he blames for holding up the ban (untrue) because it still has a Tory majority (also untrue). But contrast all this with ministerial silence over the Huntingdon Life Sciences affair where demonstrators (legal) backed by various forms of vicious intimidation (illegal) got within an ace of shutting the place down.

This is a firm with a patchy record on animal welfare, but it is operating lawfully under Britain's tight regulatory regime to find ways of improving human (and animal) health, cancer even. Yet only when it was goaded by the more serious newspapers did Number 10 start to make mildly angry noises as HLS grappled with its bank. Jack Straw said (again) that he might tighten the law and warned that big drug firms might send their R&D abroad.

At PM's question time, did a single one of our elected heroes risk the attention of the provisional wing of the animal rights movement by raising the topic? No. Did Hague or Kennedy or Blair himself? Ditto. Don'cha know There is an election coming and even fascists have votes? Perhaps Alan Milburn, no softie, could show a lead here? As I write, Lord Philip Hunt is on Radio 4's Today defending the bill to extend embryology research against threats from the Lords - though in fairness their lordships are not known for firebombing their opponents' cars. Likewise, that other scientific controversy over MMR jabs, ministers are prepared to fight.

Do what you think is right and do not worry about the opinion polls. Mr Blair said as much to David Frost only the other Sunday.

After all, Mr Milburn and his cancer czar, Mike Richards, are already laying down the law to hospitals with the new 'cancer treatment bible' last week.

To remind himself what's at stake Minister Milburn need look no further than the Commons science and technology committee's last report (Cmd 4928) on cancer research which MPs debated barely a fortnight ago.

A cross-party raftful of science PhDs - Michael Clark, Ian Gibson, Ashok Kumar, Desmond Turner, Brian Iddon - were genuinely delighted that the new national cancer plan has embraced their suggestion for lots more research money (doubled over five years) and a national cancer research institute to co-ordinate clinical findings.

I suppose That is the human equivalent of HLS's work, monitoring what treatments work on the lucky ones and do not work on others. Human suffering is pretty bad, too, but the idea that they may be helping others consoles many families.

It is poorly done at present and Yvette Cooper, the public health minister who had to grapple with the anti-embryology lobby last month (she did very well, too), even assured MPs that the Data Protection Act will be squared. Records will be shared, but patient confidentiality will be respected.