Election '97: THE HURRIED VOTER'S GUIDE

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THE CAMPAIGN

Yet again the day was dominated by sleaze. Martin Bell, the BBC war correspondent, held a press conference in Tatton to announce his "anti- sleaze" candidature against Neil Hamilton. Mr Hamilton remained defiant, and vowed to fight on in the seat.

Tony Blair went to the City of London to deliver a speech promising a review of government assets with a view to more privatisations.

John Major went on a long tour of the country, starting with an NHS Trust in Bury, Lancashire, then on to an engineering firm in Andover, Hampshire, and finally ending up at Aintree for the Grand National.

The Liberal Democrats were concentrating on nursery education, promising that every three- and four- year-old would be offered a place by 2000.

The Paddy Ashdown and John Major battle buses found themselves within hooting distance of each other at Manchester Airport, but an embarrassing road-rage confrontation was averted. The Lib-Dems' vehicle - known as the "Paddy Wagon" - passed by without so much as a single insult being hurled from either bus.

KEY ARGUMENTS

John Major dismissed the threat that Martin Bell poses in Tatton, saying the move showed how little support Labour and the Liberal Democrats had in the Cheshire constituency.

"Everyone in this country has a legitimate right, if nominated, to stand in the general election," the Prime Minister said.

Tony Blair used his City speech, predictably, to attack the Tories for what he called their "mindlessly negative" approach and for their "roller- coaster economy, gyrating between one extreme and another". He added that there would be no more trade union beer and sandwiches at Number 10 under Labour.

Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, said Labour were "unprincipled scoundrels", making it up as they went along. Later, he added that the campaign had degenerated into a "hysterical soap opera".

Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru launched its manifesto, promising a full-blown Welsh Parliament with law-making powers which would create jobs for 100,000 people.

GOOD DAY BAD DAY

There was only one real winner yesterday, and although he was a Lord, he was not a member of any political party: Lord Gyllene, winner of the Grand National. Lord Gyllene beat the horse backed by Major and Blair (see Bad Day), and Magoni Beach, which Major had also picked in a sweepstake.

The two party leaders must have envied the noble Lord as he coasted home to a comfortable victory.

The Prime Minister appeared on television to say that he was backing the Grand National runner Go Ballistic. Strangely, Tony Blair apparently followed John Major's line on the Grand National issue, and backed the same horse in a sweepstake. Thus cursed, the unfortunate beast did not stand a chance, and failed to complete the course.

ONE TO REMEMBER

That the outcome of the Neil Hamilton cash-for-questions affair is anyone's guess was well illustrated by the fact that even the bookmakers were split on the favourite to win the Tatton seat. Ladbrokes issued odds on Mr Hamilton to win at 1-5 favourite. They quoted Martin Bell at 3-1 against. William Hill, on the other hand, have Mr Bell as 1-4 favourite, and Mr Hamilton at 5-2 against.

HOGWASH

Bill Roache, who plays Ken Barlow in Coronation Street, made a statement in support of Neil Hamilton, the former minister who is at the centre of the cash-for-questions scandal. After lunching at the Hamiltons' home, he held court in the garden. "What has shone through here is the tenacity, which is most admirable. Neil is standing up for what he believes in," he said.

THE OTHER PARTIES

The UK Independence Party published its manifesto, with leader Alan Sked launching into a vitriolic anti-European rant at the press conference.

"It is the most bizarre set of undemocratic, unaccountable, incompetent, financially-profligate institutions that the world has ever seen," he said.

Meanwhile the Scottish National Party launched its manifesto with party leader Alex Salmond declaring that Scotland could become a prosperous, small independent country which could "pay its own way in the world".

MEDIA STAR

The BBC war correspondent Martin Bell was in the line of fire yesterday as he fielded questions from colleagues at a press conference. He confirmed he was putting himself forward as an independent anti-corruption candidate to stand against Neil Hamilton, saying he was reacting to the wishes of voters.

John Major dismissed the threat that he poses to the large Conservative majority in Tatton, but Mr Bell countered: "If I end up looking stupid, I end up looking stupid. I know I am responding here to the wishes of the constituency."

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