Election '97: THE HURRIED VOTER'S GUIDE

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The Independent Online
THE CAMPAIGN

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, followed up his BBC Election Call, with a flying visit - by helicopter - to Colchester, Eastbourne, Lewes, and Twickenham, before going on to an Oxford rally. His itinerary over the three final days of the campaign, this week, is targeting 21 seats.

Labour was not to be outdone, with every member of the shadow Cabinet said to be out and about with back-up teams of Labour candidates - though the claim did not tally with today's detailed list of "Frontbench election campaign visits", issued by the famed Millbank press office.

But John Prescott, dubbed "Mr Motivator" by a straight-faced Peter Mandelson, is apparently doing the work of a whole host of politicians.

Comfortably ensconced at the heart of his Millbank web, a proud Mr Mandelson said yesterday that the deputy leader will today pass the 10,000-mile mark of his nationwide battle-bus tour, with 80 meetings, 97 constituency visits, 500 media interviews and "personal contact" with 38,500 "very, very lucky people".

Meanwhile, John Major decided on a marathon tour of all four corners of the United Kingdom, with a "wake-up" call to the voters to recognise the alleged threat posed by Labour to the Union.

KEY ARGUMENTS

John Major concluded his tour of the United Kingdom on Abingdon Green, opposite the Commons, where he delivered a warning that Labour posed a double threat to the United Kingdom, through a break-up of the Union generated by its plans for devolution, and through a sell-out of British interests in Europe.

Tony Blair, who had earlier addressed Labour's press conference via a video link, warned of the threat posed to the National Health Service from a fifth-term Conservative Government - a message later reinforced by Labour's final election broadcast. He said that the Conservatives had been laying plans for more private medical insurance, generated by a deal between Norwich Union and the NHS Trusts; providing low-cost, fast-track treatment in NHS private wards.

The Liberal Democrats also returned to the NHS at their election press conference - it is one of the voters' prime concerns - but Mr Ashdown told an Oxford rally last night that there would be a "catastrophe" in the next century if education was not made an immediate priority with appropriate resources.

GOOD DAY BAD DAY

Michael Heseltine was the subject of "literally hundreds" of bets over the weekend, said a Ladbrokes spokesman. William Hill has accordingly cut the odds of him succeeding John Major from 4/1 to 2/1; Ladbrokes has taken them down from 10/1 to 7/2. John Major, meanwhile, had a terrible day. But even in the light of such a betting frenzy, only a cynic would say that that equalled an even better day for Mr Heseltine.

With only 48 hours to go until the polling booths open, Mr Major's campaigning looks all but over.

With the polls indicating a majority of more than 100, Mr Major embarked on a last-minute 1,000- mile round trip to try and woo the "millions" of voters who have still not made up their minds. It ended with an impromptu speech on the green outside Westminster, in which he asserted that there were "72 hours left to save the Union".

ONE TO REMEMBER

Saying he had had informal discussions with a number of Tory MPs, senior Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell predicted: "If the Conservative Party embarks upon the kind of anti-European course to which it appears to be set, I think there will be a very substantial number of Conservative MPs of the One Nation variety ... who will certainly be looking around to find another place - another party perhaps - to which they should add their support".

HOGWASH

Tony Blair decided some time ago that it was the ordinary man with a Sierra in the driveway who would have to be convinced if Labour was to win. Yesterday he told the Yorkshire Post that he felt Labour had largely allayed Sierra Man's fears and that now it had graduated to the support of Ford Galaxy drivers. "The interesting thing is the number of very successful business people who just say 'these Tories are a shower and a disgrace," he added.

THE OTHER PARTIES

The Teddy Bear Alliance launched its manifesto demanding a "fleas- free Britain", retention of "our clause four scratching" and "honey for all". Party leader Edward Bear, who is contesting Kensington and Chelsea against Alan Clark, said he would give Mr Clark "a good run for his honey." Sean Connery appeared in the SNP's last broadcast of the campaign and urged Scots to vote for a stake in their own future. Interviewed in the Scottish Sun, Connery said he would return to Scotland when the country became independent. SNP leader Alex Salmond later described him as an "international Scot".

MEDIA STAR

Natural Law Party members Bruno Darcy, Morris Ahmed and Ian Docker obliged a very large group of press and broadcast photographers yesterday with a display of yogic flying, a refined state reached after several minutes of meditation. The press pack found the suspense almost too much, but eventually the bouncing began. The party claims the activity could achieve "ideal education, perfect health for everyone, a flourishing economy and freedom from crime and terrorism". In the room where the demonstration took place, a state of near-perfect hilarity was achieved.

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