Election '97: THE HURRIED VOTER'S GUIDE

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THE CAMPAIGN

The Conservatives claimed Labour was in "open warfare" over privatisation. After Tony Balir indicated the party would go ahead with more privatisations, possibly including air traffic control, the Tories published a speech from the opposition transport spokesman, Andrew Smith, to last year's party conference. In it he said that "our air is not for sale".

Labour scored on tax after Mr Major claimed the tax burden had remained the same since the last election. An independent report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies said that the average family was, in fact, paying pounds 7 per week more than at the last election.

Both parties celebrated five years since the last election, the Conservatives by noting their triumphs and Labour by noting Tory failures.

Martin Bell, the war correspondent standing against Neil Hamilton in Tatton, resigned from the BBC yesterday. He told journalists he had tried to hand in his resignation last November but it had been rejected. Then he went on a walkabout to try to win votes.

Seven senior businessmen backed Liberal Democrat policies as the most likely of the major parties' proposals to build a successful and stable economy.

In a letter in today's Financial Times, they said its agenda as "credible, practical and ultimately beneficial to British business and the economy".

KEY ARGUMENTS

The deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, set the tone by claiming that the Labour leader could not cope with election politics.

Praising John Major, he said: "This Prime Minister can take the pressure. Tony Blair is cracking under the strain."

Mr Blair retorted that the Conservatives were "a desperate group of people".

"You will see they will try to scare people and frighten people about me. We have to carry on with the message of hope," he said.

Mr Major carried on in the same vein, accusing Labour of "hypocrisy" on tax. Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, responded in kind with his own claim that the Prime Minister had told lies over the issue.

Baroness Thatcher, out campaigning in Aldershot, also had some comments on Mr Blair. "He is trying to take over my policies, it is a kind of conversion of convenience," she said.

But Labour's former deputy leader, Roy Hattersley, said Mr Blair was trying to imitate Baroness Thatcher's techniques. "He is not a leader who allows compromise. He pursues his aims with the ruthlessness that characterised Mrs Thatcher," he said.

GOOD DAY BAD DAY

John Major was on form on the fifth anniversary of his election. The Conservatives appeared to have rattled Labour over privatisation and policy changes, and the Prime Minister cheerfully quipped back at hecklers as he toured South Wales. A man who resented his attack on Labour shouted "bollocks", to which Mr Major replied: "That is the most intelligent remark I have heard from the Labour Party in this whole campaign."

Paddy Ashdown attracted some criticism when a woman was kept out of a Liberal Democrat "open" discussion in Twickenham, west London because, according to a party official, she wanted to make "a political point".

Mr Ashdown had begun the session by saying: "I am on a mission to build a bridge between the people and the politicians.

"It's about time we had politicians with ears open."

ONE TO REMEMBER

Tony Blair joined dozens of happy schoolchildren for a photograph on a brightly coloured barge in Bristol, and Sian Clare of the Press Association was asked to leave her brown coat behind, so as not to spoil the image of the Labour leader and the children smiling in the sunshine. "We are trying to capture the interest of voters," an aide attempted to explain. "We want to provide variety."

HOGWASH

Labour's deputy leader, John Prescott, said on the ITN lunchtime news yesterday: "We don't have a policy of directly wanting to privatise anything, quite frankly, but we will face the realities of what has to be done with public assets." [The solution is] "a combination of practical common sense. I've always stood for that. A bit of the old traditional values and a modern setting, and I'm quite happy to stand by that."

THE OTHER PARTIES

At the launch of the Alliance Party's manifesto in Northern Ireland, leader Lord Alderdice said the party firmly rejected the "not- an-inch" approach to politics. The Alliance propose a regional power-sharing government for Northern Ireland and a bill of rights to prevent discrimination.

The row over SNP spending continued, with economist Jim Stevens denying that he had supported the party's predictions.

Actors Corin and Vanessa Redgrave launched a "Charter for Basic Rights", on which a candidate will stand in the election, and warned that Britain risked falling victim to "pinstripe fascism".

MEDIA STAR

Baroness Thatcher relished her return to the campaign trail in Dorset, saying "I am fighting fit, it is marvellous to be here, I have fought 11 elections and it is marvellous to be out meeting people".

She chastised those who raised questions about Neil Hamilton: "Why are you going on and on and on about this?" Lady Thatcher asked, before condemning the journalists in Biblical style.

"Only someone who is perfect themselves can level charges against him," she said.

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