Election '97: THE HURRIED VOTER'S GUIDE

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The Independent Online
THE CAMPAIGN

Europe dominated the day, overshadowing the launch of Labour's business manifesto. Labour was crowing over revelations that large numbers of Conservative MPs, including the agriculture minister Angela Browning, were speaking out against a single currency in their election addresses and newsletters. Mrs Browning effectively won the support of the Prime Minister who indicated that her stance was in line with the party manifesto.

In the Conservative camp, there was jubilation over the leaking of European Commission plans to extend the Working Time Directive to more employees. John Major said no Conservative government would accept such a move.

The business launch went ahead as planned, though, with figures including Terence Conran and Tim Waterstone of Waterstone's book shops endorsing the party.

The Liberal Democrats kept to their usual formula, with an early-morning attack on both other parties for ignoring the elderly. The party also launched its Party Election Broadcast on racism.

In it, Paddy Ashdown described how he stood up to local racists:

"My wife and I were threatened and we had police protecting us 24 hours round the clock and I began to understand what it was like to be an Asian in this country," he said.

KEY ARGUMENTS

The Tories' attack on Labour centred on the effects of its policies on Europe. The adoption of the social chapter would lead to over-regulation and job losses, the party said. "The weasel words Labour have used to avoid telling the truth will cut no ice with the British people," the Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind said at a Scottish press conference.

Labour claimed that, on the contrary, it was now the party of business and was "the entrepreneurs' champion".

"Up and down the country, scores of Conservative candidates are thumbing their noses at John Major in their election addresses," the shadow Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said.

The party's deputy leader, John Prescott, added: "John Major... has been snubbed by Neil Hamilton, snubbed by local Conservative associations and now he is being defied by up to 200 Tory candidates. This is a party that cannot be led, with a leader who cannot lead."

The Liberal Democrats backed Labour: "The Government may want to make sure that Britain is stuck in the Victorian age in terms of its workplace safeguards and rights, but I certainly don't," Paddy Ashdown said.

GOOD DAY BAD DAY

Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party won permission to bring a High Court challenge against the BBC and ITV, over their refusal to grant it more than one five-minute party election broadcast. Mr Justice Sedley ruled that the party had "an arguable case" that the refusals were legally flawed. Even if eventually unsuccessful, the case may bring the Referendum Party more publicity than the broadcasts themselves would achieve.

Alistair Darling, Labour's treasury spokesman, arrived at Glaxo Wellcome in Dartford, Kent, to launch Labour's business manifesto but Glaxo officials refused to allow him to launch the document at their plant. Darling then denied he had come to launch the manifesto, but was confronted by reporters with a press release announcing the event. The incident was filmed and later released to journalists by a gleeful Michael Heseltine.

ONE TO REMEMBER

Another candidate has announced her intention to stand in the Tatton constituency. The Transformer, a seven-foot-tall transvestite, stands for "the major themes of modern society - music, fashion, glamour, sex, equality, hope, escapism and, of course, sleaze". She has vowed to confront Hamilton on the campaign trail, wearing a dress consisting of sewn-together brown envelopes and pounds 50 notes. Has Christine Hamilton finally met her match?

HOGWASH

Michael Portillo encountered some tough questioning on the BBC's Election Call. He said it was right to sell military training jets to Indonesia, which has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in East Timor: "Around the world many countries have not reached the standard of human rights that we enjoy in very long-established democracies such as the UK. But many governments are better than others, and they are better than the alternatives."

THE OTHER PARTIES

The Green Party launched its manifesto for the second time yesterday, claiming the media had ignored the first launch last month. David Taylor, a party spokesman, said they would continue launching the manifesto to ensure fair coverage. The Greens will fight 90 seats compared with 225 in 1992. The Natural Law Party promised to create "heaven on Earth" at its manifesto launch in London yesterday. Geoffrey Clements, the party's leader said: "When we look around at the galaxies and the Earth they are governed by natural law. But what is absent in this country is that same natural law." The party is contesting 300 seats.

MEDIA STAR

The press pack caught up with Agriculture Minister Angela Browning yesterday in the village of Halberton, near Tiverton. But no sooner had they spotted her election mini-battlebus than it had sped off. The reporters gave chase, and she eventually obliged with a press conference outside her campaign headquarters in Exeter. She tried to defuse the row over her comments on the single currency, and rejected calls for her resignation, saying: "I think the media have put quite a spin on this; when you read it, and the Prime Minister has read it, you will see it is in line with party policy."

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