Click to follow

Education and Europe were the themes of the day, along with the leadership qualities of the Prime Minister.

The Tories' plans to create a grammar school in every town were the subject of their morning press conference, with the Prime Minister promising that parents would decide which schools could be selective.

Tony Blair, meanwhile, was making a speech in Manchester in which he criticised John Major's leadership, particularly over Europe, and claimed that the Conservatives were too divided to govern properly.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, helped to keep the issue of Europe in the news by defending the rights of Tory backbenchers to express their personal views on Europe and to take money for doing so, as more than 200 have done from the businessman Paul Sykes.

For Labour, John Prescott, the deputy leader, was claiming that his party would need 10 years in office to complete its programme for change.

The Liberal Democrats focused on health at their morning press conference, saying the National Health Service was a lottery and warning that the slogan "It could be you" took on a whole new meaning when it meant cancelled operations and lack of treatment.

Sinn Fein claimed that a Labour government might look more favourably on peace proposals drawn up by nationalist parties than the present one had done.


Under pressure over Conservative splits on Europe, John Major hit back. "We are conducting our dispute in an honest way. I may find that frustrating. But we aren't sweeping it under the carpet and hiding it in the Stalinist fashion as are the Labour Party, who have precisely the same divisions in their party.

"We are facing it honestly - painfully perhaps - but honestly," he said.

Tony Blair criticised Mr Major's leadership, or what the Labour leader said was the lack of it, along with what he called a "fetish of isolation" over Europe.

"A narrow, crabbed nationalism, the old force of the right, is reborn in the Conservative Party. It is a natural reaction to insecurity and fear in a changed world, but it leads nowhere," he said.

Paddy Ashdown turned his attentions from health and the failings of the two other parties to the mayhem wreaked by the IRA in London and other parts of Britain.

"The IRA tactics are clear. They are using the election for publicity, trying to cripple people's lives as they go about their normal business. This is economic terrorism, but it will prove futile," the Liberal Democrat leader said.


William Hague is punters' 3-1 favourite to win a Tory leadership contest. Hague has come a long way from addressing the Tory party conference as a teenager in 1977. Though he may be the bookies favourite, at 36 he is unlikely to become leader this time around. He has only been in Parliament since 1989, but is still ranked as favourite alongside Michael Portillo and Michael Howard.

Jacques Santer was nobody's friend yesterday when he waded into the scrap with the Tory sceptics, to find neither Major nor Blair wanted him on their team. Unnamed "doom merchants" wanted to take the EU backwards, he said. John Major said his speech was evidence of federalist ambitions, whilst Labour sniffed "He was John Major's personal choice for President of the Commission and it is for them to resolve the fact that they now appear to have fallen out."


Gordon Brown promised more surprises from new Labour when he was quizzed at yesterday's press conference over the decision to use the colour purple as a background to their logos.

The shadow Chancellor said that Labour's new emphasis on purple reflected the party's "passion" for campaigning, adding: "Be prepared for a few surprises over the next few days."


The prominent Tory Euro-sceptic John Redwood attacked Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission, saying : "I wouldn't presume to advise John Major, and I myself would not presume to advise Mr Santer to mind his own business because our business in some respects is Mr Santer's business now, given that we are members of the EU."


Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalists, said his party had never been stronger and was set to break the 30 per cent barrier in the polls. Launching a new party document "The Scotland We Seek", Mr Salmond said "independence is the only means to secure a better future for Scotland."

Following another day of transport chaos, senior Sinn Fein officials said the disruption underlined the need for all parties to begin peace talks. Senior spokesman Mitchel McLaughlin said "violence from all sources is continuing and the only way to change that is for politicians to meet their responsibilities".


Last night's Labour election broadcast described life under the Tories if they were elected for another five-year term. With "Land and Hope and Glory" throughout, the broadcast interspersed shots of cheering, flag-waving Conservatives - including shots of senior Cabinet members filmed at varying speeds - at a party conference, with images of empty hospital wards, shoppers putting food back on to supermarket shelves because they could not afford it and an image of the Union Flag dropping to half mast. All in all, very subtle.