Election '97: Just 70,000 targeted: What about the election's neglected millions?

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The Independent Online
The great gulf of the election campaign was exposed by Paddy Ashdown and church leaders yesterday, with the Liberal Democrat leader accusing Labour of only being interested in 70,000 key-seat voters out the 44 million registered to vote.

Following a visit to a council estate in south-west London, Mr Ashdown told a Westminster rally last night that he had been to a centre for young single parents - "People who, as the Council of Churches made clear today, are all too often made the scapegoats by politicians, when what they need is our support.

"These are the people whose concerns have so far been addressed by neither Mr Major nor Mr Blair in this election; for the simple reason that, to these people, they have nothing to say. These are the people who have been let down, left out and left behind by this government. And who risk being let down, left out and left behind in this election."

Mr Ashdown said that Labour had lost its passion, conviction, and its crusade, and was instead directing its campaign, cash and message at the short-term concerns of the 70,000 voters in the marginal seats, who advisers said would swing the election, and Labour into office.

Underscoring that point, the churches earlier stepped in where the politicians feared to tread, with a report in which they attacked social division, unemployment and poverty - and criticised all parties, including the Liberal Democrats.

In a report which condemned both public apathy and an over-reliance on the market economy, they called for higher taxation, more public spending, a national minimum wage and reform of the benefits system.

"In the British election campaign the political parties are competing for votes by promising low taxation," the report, Unemployment and the Future of Work, said.

"When so many are living in poverty and unemployment, it is wrong to give priority to the claims of those who are already well off. None of the political parties has put forward a programme which offers much real hope of improvement to those in greatest need."

Members of the inquiry on unemployment and the future of work, conducted for all the main Christian churches in Britain and Ireland, said they were "shocked and saddened" by what they had seen.

Andrew Britton, executive secretary of the churches' working party and former director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said the "vision of the Kingdom of God" should rule the whole of life including politics and economics.

"It is a case of treating others as we would wish to be treated ourselves, when we are in the same situation."

John Major disagreed with the churches' judgement. "There is no point in wearing your heart on your sleeve if you have nothing in the national wallet with which to help," he said in an interview with Adam Boulton on Sky News last night.

Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, welcomed the report and claimed it was an indictment of the state of Britain.

"The Conservatives must now answer whey they have failed to tackle the huge inner-city problems of unemployment and why we face the threat of an underclass in Britain," he said.

t According to a new Gallup rolling survey for the Daily Telegraph, only two-thirds of eligible voters say they will definitely vote on 1 May - suggesting the lowest turn-out for more than 50 years. Turnout has not fallen below 70 per cent since 1918. Only 40 per cent of those aged 18-24 say they are certain to vote, compared with 59 per cent of the same age-group who said they intended to vote in 1992.

Labour's lead over the Conservatives has slipped to 12 points, according to an ICM poll for today's Guardian newspaper. The poll shows Labour unchanged on 46 points, the Tories on 34, up two, and the Liberal Democrats on 15, down two.