Election : '97: British bulldog plays patriotic card for Labour

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The Labour will use a three-year-old bulldog called Fitz to play the patriotic card in the party's second election broadcast tonight.

The bulldog, long a symbol of patriotic Toryism, is seen at the beginning of broadcast tired and worn out after 18 years under a Conservative "master".

Then along comes Tony Blair. After proposals for health, education, law and order and a quick dig at 22 Tory tax rises, the dog starts to perk up.

"I am a British patriot," says Mr Blair. "We need a government that will lead in Europe. A divided Conservative party cannot fight for Britain."

This is intercut with scenes of Mr Blair with Bill Clinton, Mr Blair with Nelson Mandela and the bulldog waking up and straining at its leash. Eventually it breaks free so that it can run towards the rose-coloured future that is a Labour gov- ernment.

"It is a completely New Labour dog," said Peter Mandelson MP, the party's senior spin doctor, tongue firmly in cheek.

"I love the bulldog. I think the public will love the bulldog. I think the people will demand that we bring the bulldog back."

Fitz is a family pet, but party workers refused to name the family. Perhaps fearing a "Jennifer's dog" incident if it turns out to belong to a Tory.

Tony Blair and Baroness Thatcher's worries about the long election campaign turning people off is reflected in poor viewing figures for news programmes on television.

The Nine O'clock News, which was blamed at the weekend by Mr Blair for boring the electorate with tit-for-tat election coverage, has been hardest hit by election apathy.

The BBC's flagship news programme's viewing figures tumbled by nearly two million from an average of 6.1 million to around four million since it increased its length by 25 minutes to give more election coverage on 2 April.

The corporation is powerless to improve its news ratings because it feels it has a duty to inform the public during the election: "Our public service obligation is part of the democratic process," said BBC News spokesman Richard Peel.

"We are giving people information to help them make a choice."

Peel believes that the phoney campaign before the election was called has put people off, but expects interest to recover closer to polling day.

News at Ten has lost an around 800,000 viewers from its 6m average, but its programme has not been extended.

Channel 4 News and Newsnight seem to have an in-built constituency of political addicts and their viewing has fallen by much smaller amounts. Newsnight is down 100,000 to one million and Channel 4 News is down 40,000 to 700,000.

Newspapers are doing no better. In the official Audit Bureau of Circulation figures for March, only one daily newspaper - the Sun - saw its sales rise significantly compared with February, while the rest largely stood still.