Election '97: THE HURRIED VOTER'S GUIDE

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The Independent Online
THE CAMPAIGN

As Labour prepared for today's business manifesto launch, the Conservatives set up a two-pronged attack on its union links. John Major told an enthusiastic audience in Rocester, Staffordshire, that union leaders were both paying for a Labour victory and praying for one. Under new Labour the unions would have rights even Michael Foot never dreamed of, he said.

The President of the Board of Trade, Ian Lang, wrote to union leaders to say he was "mystified" by their silence on Labour's privatisation plans.

Mr Blair retorted that anyone who tried to bully a government led by him would receive short shrift.

The Liberal Democrats began the day, for the second time in a week, with a briefing on the state of the health service. Then the party's leader, Paddy Ashdown, wrote to both Tony Blair and John Major to ask how they intended to find enough money to avert an impending crisis in the education and health services.

Tony Blair said he felt like a pop star after he was mobbed by hundreds of screaming schoolchildren as he arrived at a Midlands comprehensive.

Mr Blair and his wife Cherie landed by helicopter in the middle of the playing fields of Arrow Vale High School, Redditch, to be greeted by hordes of excited youngsters.

KEY ARGUMENTS

Labour tried to keep up the pressure on the Conservatives on taxation, with claims that the Chancellor had admitted families were paying pounds 7 more in taxes each week than at the last election. "The Chancellor has now confirmed what Labour has been saying - that taxes have risen since the last general election," the Shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown, said.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, were also anxious to keep up the pressure. They began by targeting Labour's Welfare to Work plans before moving on to privatisation, the unions and Europe. Mr Major claimed Britain's adoption of the social chapter would "conscript our young people into Europe's army of the unemployed".

The privatisation of Air Traffic Control hit the headlines early in the day, when a union official said he had been assured by Labour that it was still opposed to such a move. Labour countered that it was no longer against the sale, but could not see how it would make any money.

Paddy Ashdown was forced to deny rumours that he would stand down after the election, joking that his successor had not even done A-levels yet.

GOOD DAY BAD DAY

Jimmy Young excelled himself yesterday when he succeeded in pinning down Tony Blair on Labour's muddle over the future of the air traffic control system. Despite Mr Blair's appeals to "leave that aside as it is", Jimmy pressed hard to get an answer on which member of Labour's transport team had ruled out privatisation. Eventually Mr Blair gave a clear answer. "I'm not sure ... I simply don't know," he said.

Imagine enjoying your early days on earth at a farm in Scotland and suddenly a politician arrives from London, picks you up and starts baaing at you. The poor lamb, at Stagehall Farm, Galashiels, separated from mum by Paddy Ashdown understandably was upset as indeed was mother who was shaping up to butt the Lib Dem leader. The farmer's solution? - he advised Paddy to start bleating to calm mother and babe

ONE TO REMEMBER

Major himself reminded the electorate that election pledges should be viewed with some cynicism. Asked about the promise and performance at the last election, he said: "We have never hidden the fact that during the recession we put up taxes and we are now bringing them down". Election promises tend to be based on predictions, but "I have learnt from experience that no one can absolutely foresee what will happen in the future".

HOGWASH

GMTV interviewer Fiona Phillips attempted to tackle Gillian Shephard on the real issues: "Everyone is saying what the Labour Party hasn't done. What the Tories haven't done. What are you going to do?" But Eamonn Holmes interjected: "Let's talk about positive things". "You're quite a fan of Mr Motivator aren't you?" said Ms Phillips. "That is perfectly true," revealed Mrs Shephard. "Who is your Mr Motivator?" "Mr Major is a great motivator as far as I am concerned."

THE OTHER PARTIES

The Scottish National Party claimed it had won the economic argument for independence, with their Treasury spokesman, John Swinney, claiming "the entire unionist case against the economics of independence has centred on the myth of subsidy, and it has now been destroyed."

The Scottish Socialist Alliance launched its first manifesto, accusing MPs for lining their own pockets at the expense of those less well-off.

The Liberal Democrats said Plaid Cymru's plans for devolution would entail an increase in income tax to 73p in the pound for the basic rate.

MEDIA STAR

Peter Hitchens of the Daily Express made himself the centre of attention when he tried to catch out Mr Blair in Labour's morning press conference. He asked the Labour leader whether it wasn't hypocritical of him to send his son to a grant-maintained school. Mr Blair said: "We are quite committed to maintaining church schools". Mr Hitchens replied that this was not a proper answer. Mr Blair said it was, and both men talked at each other until Mr Hitchens, a long-time irritant at Labour press conferences, was warned that he risked not being called again.

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