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Election '97: Charities gang up to attack big two

A coalition of leading pressure groups and charities will today attack John Major and Tony Blair for ignoring issues concerning morality, social justice and the environment which, they insist, are of real concern to voters.

The Real World Coalition, made up of groups with more than 2.4 million registered members or supporters, said its opinion poll carried out by MORI last week showed that people cared deeply about problems the Conservatives and Labour did not want to talk about. But it exempted the Liberal Democrats from its claim that the main parties had "betrayed the electorate".

"The major parties conspire among themselves to keep such issues off the election agenda," said Jonathon Porritt, founder of the coalition and its leading spokesman. He said this had happened in past elections despite "overwhelming evidence of just how much people care about environmental and social- justice issues".

The attack today comes towards the end of a week in which 11 British churches combined to call for higher taxes and increased public spending in their report, Unemployment and the Future of Work.

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, has also accused Labour of concentrating its energies on wooing just 70,000 uncertain voters in key marginal constituencies rather than all 44 million registered voters.

Real World's poll was carried out among 1,069 adults and was paid for by two members of the coalition, Oxfam and Friends of the Earth. People were questioned about 10 of Real World's key issues, ranging from clear targets for cutting road traffic to policies to reduce the gap between rich and poor in Britain and worldwide.

The issue given greatest priority was "providing affordable homes for those that need them" followed by "tougher laws on the international arm trades, including a ban on the use of land mines".

Mr Porritt said: "The poll figures are significantly higher than one would normally expect at this time in an election campaign. I'm not claiming our issues are more important than the state of schools and the health service, nor the economy or crime, but they are more important than the media and the parties appear to recognise." Tony Blair and John Major had chosen to ignore them, he said.

Real World has analysed the manifestos of the three main parties to see how they accord with its campaigning for more help for the poor in Britain, increased third world aid, constitutional reform and greater environmental protection - all of which come together under the umbrella of "sustainable development".

Mr Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth, said he personally felt the Liberal Democrat manifesto had a clear lead, but the Charity Commissioners had warned Real World's members they could not endorse any one party or draw up a scorecard to show which rated highest. "Even an implied endorsement would be going over the line," he said.

The coalition, founded just over a year ago, has 44 members. They include Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children Fund, Friends of the Earth, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Charter 88 and the Child Poverty Action Group. It has 70 local groups agitating around the country.

Disappointingly for some of Real World's members, only 36 per cent of those questioned thought that increasing Britain's foreign aid was an important issue and just 9 per cent thought it very important.

Election '97: The quality of life index

Issue Important Very

% important %

Providing affordable homes 91 58

Tougher laws on arms trade, inc land mines 83 57

Tougher policies to protect environment 82 37

Targets for reducing road traffic 82 40

Reduce the gap between rich and poor 81 47

Cut energy consumption to tackle global warming 81 40

Rights for individual citizens 80 42

Stronger protection for Sites of

Special Scientific Interest and

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty 78 37

Increasing taxes on pollution and waste

to cut taxes on jobs and wealth 76 32

Increasing Britain's foreign aid 36 9