Election `97: THE HURRIED VOTER'S GUIDE

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The Independent Online
THE CAMPAIGN

Pensions took over as the issue of the day, but all the parties had their own themes.

Labour used its morning press conference to give more details of a Crime and Disorder Bill which it intends to introduce in its first session if it wins the election. The Bill would deal with drugs, alcohol, juvenile offenders, anti-social behaviour and a curfew for children under 10.

The Liberal Democrats dropped their theme of the day - pensioners - to release a statement from a nurse who had seen a 22-year-old man die from cancer after having an exploratory operation cancelled three times. The nurse, who had contacted the Mirror newspaper last week, said she would vote Liberal Democrat because the party had the best policies on health.

The Conservatives were also forced off their theme of the day, "Britain's economic miracle", to defend their plans on pensions. Labour had claimed that the Tories' "basic pension plus" scheme which would gradually replace the state pension with private provision would mean its abolition. John Major hit back, saying that he would resign if his Cabinet ever abandoned its commitment to pensions for all.

The Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, defended his party against claims that it would put VAT on food if it won the election. Such measures would be "lunacy", he said.

KEY ARGUMENTS

John Major said he had never seen campaign tactics like the ones used by Labour over pensions before.

"This is just the politics of crude fantasy, scurrilous, unscrupulous campaigning in order to win votes from people who they wish to frighten.

"This sort of scare is a wholly different dimension. It really brings politics down into the gutter," the Prime Minister said.

Tony Blair warned of rises in crime under a fifth-term Conservative government. "The fear of crime hangs like a dark cloud in the air," the Labour leader said. "Two-thirds of women pensioners scared to leave their house at night. Our pensioners prisoners in their own homes who only want to live in peace. Surely the prisoners should be those who commit the crimes, not those who are the victims of crime. It cannot go on."

The Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, said the Conservatives' internal wars were tearing them apart.

"The Conservative Party are now at war with themselves. Whether or not in government or opposition, I think the Conservatives as a political force may well be disabled for a number of years," he said.

ONE TO REMEMBER

John Major said he would walk out of politics and trigger an immediate general election should a Cabinet ever attempt to push him into scrapping the state pension. His declaration came after another round of insults when Labour refused to drop its claim that the pension would be abolished by the Tories. It raises the question as to whether an isolated Prime Minister would have the power to force a general election in defiance of his Cabinet.

HOGWASH

Labour responded to a request from Your Garden magazine to choose a flower that best reflected the party. It chose its own red rose, because, according to a Millbank minion, "red roses symbolise love, respect and dignity. The red rose of Labour reflects the strength of our commitment to Britain's future". Thanks are due to Your Garden magazine for unearthing such prize specimens.

THE OTHER PARTIES

The Scottish Nationalist Party said that an independent Scotland would give pounds 288 million a year in overseas aid, equivalent to 0.7 per cent of GDP. Dr Allan Macartney, the party's external affairs spokesman, said the main thrust of a Scottish aid programme would be to assist long- term development. Sir James Goldsmith addressed Asian voters at a visit to the London mosque with his daughter Jemima. He said a federal Europe would leave the Asian community "small" in a "vast, amorphous, soulless state." "Children will have to find an alternative to their families," he added. "They will go into gangs."

MEDIA STAR

Norma Major had to be rescued by security guards from a crowd of chanting John Major fans at the Whitechapel mosque in London's East End. The Prime Minister and his wife had intended to spend some time at the mosque, but were confronted with a large crowd shouting "Long live John Major - East-End welcome". Mrs Major later appeared in the centre of Ilford in east London, but seemed somewhat shaken by her ordeal. From that point onwards she remained in the background, as Mr Major went on his first walkabout in the campaign.

GOOD DAY BAD DAY

Steven Norris was in his element yesterday as he accompanied John and Norma Major on a riverboat tour along the Thames in London. The former transport minister gave a running commentary to journalists as the catamaran cruiser - nicknamed Major's battle boat - went from Charing Cross Pier to the Docklands complex, to see the sight of last year's IRA bomb at South Quay, highlighting examples of inner-city regeneration.

Tory Chicken has been strangely absent from the campaign trail recently. He reappeared yesterday as Tony and Cherie toured the Port of Dover. But it seems the poor bird has become a focus for anti-Tory feeling, and he felt the brunt of some discontent from the crowd. Worse was to come, as T.C. was detained by Port of Dover police and questioned about his accreditation. He was released, but inquiries were last night said to be ongoing.

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