Election '97: THE HURRIED VOTER'S GUIDE

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The Independent Online
THE CAMPAIGN

While John Major returned, for the third consecutive day, to Europe, Labour and the Liberal Democrats preferred to concentrate on law and order; one of the issues that many voters say they are very concerned about.

At the first press conference of the day, Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, proposed measures to combat juvenile crime. The package included developing schemes to identify disruptive children at an early stage, a national truancy watch scheme, and the establishment of a voluntary citizen's service for young people; providing up to two years' community service.

Jack Straw, Labour's spokesman, proposed swift action to reform the Crown Prosecution Service, with an independent review of structures, policies and procedures to be completed within a year of the party taking office.

Labour is proposing a chief crown prosecutor, a sort of US-style district attorney, for each police force area in the country, to help reverse "the steady decline in the number of convictions since the 1980s". But Michael Howard said "Jack Straw clearly does not understand the changes we have already made to de-centralise the CPS", adding that only the Conservatives would take the tough measures needed on crime.

KEY ARGUMENTS

Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, again attacked the Liberal Democrats' tax-and-spend policies - a reflection of the frustration Labour is feeling with the "chattering class" perception that Paddy Ashdown and his party represent a new radicalism. He also said that yesterday's Conservative advert depicting Tony Blair as a puppet on Chancellor Kohl's knee was an act of "desperation".

The Liberal Democrats supported the idea of tactical voting to try and out the Conservatives, with campaign manager Lord Holme saying: "We as Liberal Democrats always had the quandary of the British voting system, and within these constraints we want people to cast an effective vote. There is no doubt for many people in many constituencies their overriding wish is to get rid of this shambolic government."

John Major's argument on Europe was an echo of Margaret Thatcher's famous Bruges speech from the late 1980s. She said she had not rolled back the frontiers of the state, to have socialism return through the back door of Brussels; Mr Major said the trades unions were poised to use Europe as a route to return to their old ways.

GOOD DAY BAD DAY

Last week, Paddy Ashdown said he looked forward to being able to declare "we are a grandfather" in the near future. Yesterday he did so, as he made plans to visit his new grandson, who was born on Thursday in Burgundy. Ashdown is going to France today, and relished such a good reason to be able to step off the campaign trail: "I will be scampering off there as fast as I can, and it's going to be a private visit," he said.

Stephen Dorrell had a miserable time trying to clarify comments he made on Thursday's ITV 500 programme. Questioner Pet Whittaker had said she needed a heart bypass, "and my doctor cannot contract the hospital which fundholders can". Dorrell recommended: "go and register with a fundholder." Dorrell yesterday protested that he was only speaking up for patient choice, but Mrs Whittaker later expressed a desire to "smack him in the mouth."

ONE TO REMEMBER

14 year-old "Tory Boy" Thomas Goodhead launched headlong into the world of politics yesterday morning, phoning the BBC Radio 4's Election Call programme to berate John Prescott. He accused Labour of abandoning its principles to get votes. Although a descendant of Aneurin Bevan, he added that his aim was to go "right to the top" of the Tory party, emulating the success of William Hague who spoke as a teenager at a party conference.

HOGWASH

Michael Heseltine: "John Major is the man who has actually got the economy that is the envy of the European Union ... this guy has presided over it in a way that ought to be a matter of huge public acclaim as opposed to a daily feeding fever by the media". Major also described the trials of EU negotiation, saying of Chancellor Kohl: "I've sat around the table with him. I've watched him do it. He's a doughty fighter, a tough fighter".

THE OTHER PARTIES

The Green Party declared a campaign of direct action against the BBC after a leaked memo showed programme makers had been ordered to give it minimal coverage. Spokesman Peter Barnett said the BBC saw the Greens as a party for "woolly hats, sandals and beards." Meanwhile anti-racist groups condemned the BBC for approving a BNP party election broadcast which advocates the repatriation of non-whites, and capital punishment. Lee Jasper, of the National Black Alliance said: "taxpayers' money is going to be used to resource a race hate campaign against black British citizens."

MEDIA STAR

Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany featured prominently in the media yesterday, thanks to a Conservative advertisement which showed him controlling a ventriloquist's dummy in the shape of Tony Blair. "It is unfair to bring the German Chancellor into the British election campaign like this," said Peter Hintze, general secretary of Kohl's CDU party. "Even allowing for the special nature of the British sense of humour, I don't think it's fair play".

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