Around the world of the local elections in 90 minutes

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In a whirlwind 90 minute spell yesterday your intrepid sketch- writer visited the local election campaign headquarters of each of the three major political parties, took the pulse of British politics today and returned to file this report.

My odyssey took me to three locations in central London and involved walking more than a mile. When the two tycoon parties - Forza Britannia and Harrodian Jihad - are up and running, I may have to make way for a younger man.

First stop was Cowley Street, home of the Liberal Democrats. Hot bagels and coffee were served to hacks in a beautiful oak-panelled room, marred by three flat panels, on two of which was carried the rather puzzling legend "Britain's people, Britain's future". Which I suppose was marginally less meaningless than, say, "Britain's people, Guinea-Bissau's future", but not by much.

This being the Lib-Dems and early in the morning the press was represented by the most junior correspondents (their seniors saving themselves), so the room reeked of toothpaste and hair gel.

Paddy presided, looking craggy and happy. His colleague, Diana Maddock (Christchurch), a teacherly kind of a woman in an odd mauve and gold tartan, promised us insights straight from the "grassroots", which consisted of telling us about an item she'd heard on the Today programme featuring Southend. The assembled reporters wracked their brains for questions, failed to think of any and trooped off.

At 11.40am I was inside the Millbank Tower, contemplating the modern marvel that is new Labour's press conference set. This had been designed to look like the exterior walls of a Spanish holiday villa - all white stucco and curving edges. The effect was enhanced by a desk topped with imitation granite, an arrangement of red roses and a large sun-dial with a microphone on top.

It felt like a lovely, sunny place to tuck into a paella, drink wine and get away from politics - especially since we were joined by two of Labour's waisty bon viveurs: John Prescott and Frank Dobson. Oh, and the Leader - after appearing this week "by satellite from Basildon" - was made flesh, addressed us from behind the sun-dial, smiled and said "Look" a lot.

The Conservative presser in Smith Square was a much more gloomy affair. In part their set was to blame. In colour and design it resembled the reception area at one of those American fitness spas. But its chief failing was the great height of the desk. From where I was sitting all that was visible were the necks and heads of Messrs Heseltine, Clarke and Mawhinney in a line, as though they were sitting in a row of old-fashioned steam cabinets.

And they were not happy. In a poignant moment the Chancellor's disembodied head referred to his fiscally prudent shadow as "a rather lonely figure in the labour movement". To emphasise the irony of this description Mr Clarke then went on to remind us that our kith and kin in America, gallant Canada and loyal Australia had all banned British beef before the European Union. This, he said, should be borne in mind by those "trying to turn beef into the latest hysterical Euro-sceptic issue".

The reddening Head of Hezza nodded, for it was a good point. So good that I had never heard any Conservative make it before. Too good certainly for the backbenchers who queued up later in the day in the Chamber to lambaste the dastardly Europeans. The Tories' slogan was "Life's better with the Conservatives". Perhaps. But life doesn't seem to be much fun in the Conservatives.

Battleground, page 7

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