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The Independent Online

Yesterday was the first day of a new, more positive approach to campaigning by the two former opposition parties, but whether anyone would have noticed if they had not said so is doubtful.

At Labour's Millbank media centre, the day began with a briefing from Gordon Brown and David Blunkett on "Failing the test: the Tories' record on education".

Promoting a lecture by Tony Blair in Birmingham on schools, the shadow Chancellor and the education spokesman claimed that what mattered was not structures but standards. While the Tories had been obsessed with how schools were organised, Labour would concentrate on finding ways to raise levels of attainment.

John Major began the day in Cornwall. Journalists who wanted to join him were forced to board the midnight train the previous night. After visiting a fishing boat at Newlyn Harbour, Mr Major said "quota-hopping" by European vessels must be stopped.

The Liberal Democrats, like Labour, concentrated on education and on their plans to put more money into schools. They also held a briefing on ethnic minorities, promising a merger of the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission along with repeal of the Asylum Act.


Calls for a cleaner approach to election politics were at the top of the agenda, coming both from the Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, and from Labour spin-doctors.

Mr Ashdown broke off from criticising John Major to tell journalists: "I have never known the electorate so angry, so apathetic, so fed up with all politicians. I just want to give a warning that we really do have to put our house in order." In Birmingham, Tony Blair was putting the idea into action with a lecture on education.

"If the election is about anything, it should be about education. To those who say 'where is Labour's passion for social justice?', I say education is social justice," he said.

John Major saw little new in the other parties' approaches, though, and accused Labour of waging a two-year campaign of "scurrilous" criticism.

"The Labour Party have been subjecting the Conservative[s] to the most scurrilous criticism day after day over the past two years, yet they shrink away whenever there is any criticism of them, as though it was unfair. Politics is a tough trade. As someone once ... said 'If you can't stand the heat, don't get in the kitchen'," he told BBC Radio Five.


The bulldog, a creature used to appearing in Conservative advertising, has been adopted by the Labour Party. The dog will feature in a party election broadcast tonight, appearing listless at the start but perking up at the sound of Tony Blair's oratory. Campaign manager Peter Mandelson said "The Labour Party is the patriotic party. That's why we have used this strong symbol because we believe in Britain and know it can be better."

Former champion boxer Terry Marsh stood down last night as Liberal Democrat candidate for Basildon after being charged by police with offences relating to a student grant application. The former light welterweight champion will appear before magistrates next month accused of obtaining property and services by deception.


Sinn Fein predicted they would win 4 of Northern Ireland's 18 seats and join new negotiations after the British and Irish elections. Spokesman Martin McGuinness said people's imagination had been "caught by the impact of the Hume-Adams agreement. The reception we are getting on the doorsteps is absolutely powerful ... most think there's going to be a new British government and a new opportunity for peace".


Asked on BBC Radio 5 Live what motivated him, Mr Major said: "The truth is that it's very difficult to define what drove Hillary and Tensing to climb Everest. "It was there, is the true answer. If you see something that wants doing ... Politics is a bit like bicycling. If you keep bicycling, you'll get there in the end."


The Scottish National Party were claiming victory in the argument that an independent Scotland could be self-supporting. They trumpeted new Treasury figures showing that the revenue from Scottish oil and gas could be as much as pounds 22bn over the next six years.

The British National Party launched their manifesto, Britain Reborn. At its heart are two "very firm" pledges: "(i) Future immigration of non- Whites must be stopped; (ii) Non-Whites already here must be repatriated or otherwise resettled overseas and Britain made once again a white country."


Lisa Potts, the nursery teacher who shielded children from a man wielding a machete last summer, was back in the limelight when Tony and Cherie Blair paid a visit to St Luke's School, Wolverhampton. Although cameras were barred, Ms Potts was inevitably seized on by the media. While refusing to discuss how she would vote, she described Mr Blair as "lovely" and "really nice and friendly", while "Cherie is lovely and down-to-earth." The praise was mutual. "What Lisa did caught the imagination of everyone," Mr Blair said. "She has behaved with extraordinary courage".