Election '97: Ashdown's martial art fails to dent Coe's hunk appeal

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The Independent Online
The soldierly Paddy Ashdown has set female hearts aflutter during the hustings - well at least those of a certain age.

Yesterday he failed to impress eight-year-old Lucy McMahon of Stithians Primary School, near Truro, Cornwall. Invited to contribute her political opinions to a class poster, "GOVERNMENT - WHAT WE THINK", Ms McMahon ventured ; "You should only vote for rich or hunky men."

Asked whether Mr Ashdown fitted the bill, she smiled, declined to reply, but said Sebastian Coe did. The former athlete lives in the village and is the sitting Tory MP for the constituency.

Perhaps the most controversial comment, however, came from the whole of class three. "We think there should be more people like Rolf Harris," they said. One young classmate, called Morwenna, wrote: "I don't think children know what they are talking about, so should not vote." So, people who are 18 years old and over do?

An emerging right-winger called Kirsten demanded that "people should stay in prison longer". She showed a degree of political ecleticism, however, by siding with the anti-hunt lobby: "People who kill animals for fun should be put in prison for a year."

Later, Mr Ashdown showed admirable restraint when a ferret appeared behind him on a wall as he was interviewed on television. He said the creature was the most patient and docile he had set eyes on.

Elsewhere in Cornwall, the campaign to elicit support from the younger generation got dirtier by the minute.

The Conservatives even offered children a ban on homework. In another outrageous ploy, they promised that a reformed child benefits system under a Conservative government would cut out the middle man, namely parents.

The "mock election" at Saltash Community School is not for the politically squeamish.

One Tory poster, put up in a school corridor, was craftily coloured Liberal Democrat yellow and proclaimed: "The Liberal philosophy - you worked for it, now we will take it; a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for higher taxes; the Liberals would rob you of your earnings - why not rob them of your support?"

Conservative supporters, who mysteriously failed to appear during Mr Ashdown's visit to the school, whether through boycott or diktat of the head teacher, had so far refused to take the posters down.

Perhaps the school philosophy at Stithians Primary should be taken on board by politicians of all hues: "Be honest, own up and don't tell lies."