Election '97: Ministers loom large in Labour's fright night

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Last night's Labour election broadcast proved it's not just the Tories who know how to get down and dirty in a negative election campaign.

Most of the broadcast was composed of an image guaranteed to frighten voters: Tory cabinet ministers.

As the strains of Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory" - long the Conservatives' conference closing standard - built to a climax we saw ministers looking pleased with themselves, and not just any ministers. For the first time in the election, all the child-frightening ministers made it on to prime- time television: the Michaels: Howard, Forsyth and Portillo.

"Just imagine what the Tories would do with another five years," a voice warned.

The broadcast then went on to press a series of negative 'hot buttons' that would have made the Republican election guru Lee Atwater proud.

First we saw grainy images of hospitals beds in corridors as on-screen text told of 50,000 fewer nurses. As "Land of Hope and Glory" continued to build, the camera cut to worried looking old people, the on-screen message said old people's homes would be sold by the Tories, but the implication was very much that they really would sell your granny. It cut back to grinning ministers just to underline the point.

Surveillance camera footage of drug dealing and bag snatching were used to make the Tories' record on crime scary.

And children were used to contrast with the horrid, gloating Tories. Sweet-faced schoolchildren looked worried about their chance of getting into a decent school. The we had an image that made Fitz the bulldog look like subtlety: a little girl offering her mum a tin of beans only to have her mum put them back because the Tories have put VAT on food.

"No one could be safe and nothing could stop them," said the screen and we were shown a thief with face disguised smashing a car window with a hammer. Perhaps he was meant to be another cabinet minister.

By now, "Land of Hope and Glory" had built to such a fever pitch any confusion in the mind of viewers about its intended irony had probably been overtaken by an urge to hide behind the sofa. All it needed was Ann Widdecombe in a SS uniform, but unfortunately it went out with a whimper: a sand castle carrying the Union Jack was toppled by a wave.