Election '97 : THE HURRIED VOTER'S GUIDE

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The Independent Online
THE CAMPAIGN

John Major opened his day by proclaiming the longest period of low inflation for 50 years, before returning to a favourite issue; the federalist threats posed by the European Union.

Brandishing a copy of a 'general outline for a draft revision of the treaties', issued for discussion at next month's Amsterdam EU heads of government summit, the Prime Minister went though the 'wish list' of centralising measures proposed as an 'hors d'oeuvres' for even greater threats to British sovereignty in the future. He also suggested that other heads of government had scheduled a pre-Amsterdam summit 17 days after the election with an eye on Tony Blair, in an effort 'to catch him in the after-glow of the election'.

The proposal for a free vote for Conservative MPs on a single currency was slipped out in answer to a question. Mr Major said: 'Of course it's a possibility as far as back benchers are concerned.'

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats yet again proclaimed their tax-and-spend plans. Labour warned that another Tory government would strangle the National Health Service, committed pounds 10m of the savings made on NHS bureaucracy to improve services on breast cancer - and attacked Liberal Democrat spending plans as being so much pie in the sky.

KEY ARGUMENTS

The Conservative argument is that while European threats of greater federalism lie on the table, the best person to fend them off is John Major; the man who so successfully won opt-outs on the Social Chapter and economic and monetary union (EMU)

That suggestion prompted Labour and the Liberal Democrats to reply that the Conservatives were so split that it was difficult to know who was negotiating what for whom. The shadow Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said Mr Major had 'thrown in the towel'. Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, confessed he had not been consulted on the issue of a Commons free vote.

Labour, meanwhile, opened a new front with an attack on Liberal Democrat tax-and-spend policies, based on a misunderstanding that all their pledges were to be paid for by a one penny increase in the rate of income tax, to 24p in the pound.

The Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman, Malcolm Bruce, said their plans were fully costed: 'We believe that there should be no taxation without explanation.' Paddy Ashdown later argued that Labour could not possibly make a difference to the NHS with savings from cuts in bureaucracy.

GOOD DAY BAD DAY

It was a good day for John Redwood, de facto leader of the Conservative Euro-sceptics. In a significant concession, John Major said that there could be a free vote on the single currency. But Mr Redwood continued to press forward, questioning the need for Britain to remain in the single- currency negotiations: 'I think it would help [Major's] case if he told us what he is trying to achieve for Britain in whatever negotiations remain.'

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine could not keep up with the Prime Minister's policy-making "on the hoof" over the single currency. Mr Major's attitude had become firmer over the day, and Mr Heseltine was not aware that the Prime Minister's most recent statement was that a free vote "must" apply to backbenchers. He accused BBC interviewer Charlie Lee-Potter of "grossly distorting" and "exaggerating" Mr Major's position.

ONE TO REMEMBER

A Liberal Democrat candidate was surprised to find himself quoted by Labour's Chris Smith in his onslaught on the Tories' health policy yesterday. Dr Evan Harris, who is standing in Oxford West and Abingdon, was quoted condemning the development of a two-tier NHS. Although he stood by his criticism, Dr Harris said he was 'astonished' that the Labour party was using a Liberal Democrat spokesman 'to endorse their unsustainable position'.

HOGWASH

John Tyndall, leader of the BNP, attempted to launch its manifesto. A thorough document, it even includes Hitler's favourite topic of 'degenerate art'. Tyndall writes: 'In the age to come, there are going to be two great tides that are destined to sweep all before them. The first tide is that of nationalism . . . the second is that of disillusionment with liberalism . . . We in the BNP can claim with some pride that we have been in the forefront of these two tides.'

THE OTHER PARTIES

Lord Sutch, leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party, announced: "I'm not standing in the election because my mother is very ill. I've got to visit her every day in hospital."

Four Green Party candidates in Edinburgh burned their nomination papers in protest at the pounds 500 deposit required. Its spokesman Charles Booth said: 'Britain is one of the few places in Europe that puts a financial price on democracy.'

Alex Salmond said the SNP was 'sympathetic' to Scotland joining a single currency, depending on circumstances.

MEDIA STAR

It was Will Self's turn to face the reporters. Questioned about drug-taking on the Prime Minister's plane, he said: 'I completely refute all the allegations.' A statement issued by the author's solicitor noted 'although these alleged events took place more than a week ago our client has not been contacted by the police'. But Scotland Yard confirmed an investigation into the alleged use of a controlled drug was under way. Even John Major had a view on the matter: 'I know nothing about him. It's obviously a personal tragedy for him.' At least there could be a book in all this for Will.

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