Election '97: THE HURRIED VOTER'S GUIDE

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The Independent Online
THE CAMPAIGN

Labour's manifesto was the theme of the day, with Tony Blair unveiling his 10-point contract with the British people. Mr Blair told a packed press conference that the key issue of the election was trust. People had lost faith in government, he said, but new Labour deserved to be believed, not least because of its modernisation over the past three years.

Labour promised only what it was able to deliver, he said.

Mr Blair's promises include more money for education and health, no increase in the top rate of tax, stable economic growth, low inflation, jobs for the young unemployed, tough measures on crime, the decentralising of political power and more public-private partnerships.

The Conservatives concentrated their efforts on attacking Labour, but the Liberal Democrats launched an appeal to women.

Shirley Williams, who is taking an active part in the party's campaign, promised women life-long access to education, equal treatment within the NHS, fairer pensions and a better deal in part-time work.

The Liberal Democrats, like Labour, have promised to enhance the role of women in public life. But the Lib Dems have gone further, saying that within a decade a third of all people on public bodies should be female and that Parliament should be more women-friendly.

KEY ARGUMENTS

The day's debate centred on Labour's plans, and on the amount of trust it deserved from the public and the other parties.

John Major dismissed the Labour manifesto as "more a con trick than a contract."

"I predict they'll tell you all of what they won't do, but only some of what they will do," Mr Major said.

"In six weeks they'll sell out in Europe, in three months they'll raise billions of pounds in tax and in 12 months they'll hand more power back to the unions. That's the reality of new Labour. That's the reality behind their wall of silence on the questions they won't answer," he continued.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, dismissed both the other parties' manifestoes in similar tones as "conjuring tricks".

Public services could not be improved without any extra investment, he said. The Liberal Democrat manifesto, which will be published this morning, would be the only one of the three to contain costed commitments, promises and undertakings.

It is the only national manifesto which came with a price list attached - "It will be a menu with prices".

GOOD DAY BAD DAY

Tony Blair

Tony Blair, who carried all before him with a manifesto of audacious modesty. Promises we can keep, not promising the earth, he told journalists, who grumbled, "there's nothing new in it". Which was the point. It's time for (a little bit of) change. Just what the electorate ordered, according to The Independent's poll today. He even ducked the charge of ducking a TV debate with the Prime Minister.

Tory party

The Conservative Party has spent the majority of the campaign to date trying to divert attention from sleaze. The sun shone briefly on Wednesday when commentators were provided with a manifesto-full of policies to discuss. But yesterday the policies were blown off the agenda again, this time by a six-foot cloth chicken. Since the fowl was spawned as a media stunt by Conservative Central Office, they cannot even complain at the coverage.

ONE TO REMEMBER

Newly-wed couple Michael and Majella Rigney thought Gretna Green was the perfect location for a quiet wedding and honeymoon. But within two hours of tying the knot, the Prime Minister, his entourage and the national media had descended on this normally tranquil spot. After being congratulated by the Majors, they were jumped on by waiting reporters. "We were hoping we were going to have a quiet wedding" Mr Rigney told them.

HOGWASH

The Tobacco Manufacturers' Association slammed Labour's proposed ban on tobacco advertising, saying it was it was based on unproven assertions. "This policy reflects nothing more than a political gesture based on folklore rather than fact," said the TMA, going on to speak in just the kind of "unprovable" statements it dislikes so much: "Advertising for tobacco is not related to overall consumption. It can only affect brand share."

THE OTHER PARTIES

Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party announced that it would launch its campaign next Tuesday, from the deck of a Cornish fishing boat. Only a few hours later Sir James scuppered the plan, because he feared the consequences of boarding the craft dressed in a suit.

SNP leader Alex Salmond launched an attack on Tony Blair, criticising his plans for devolution and what he called his "love in" with Margaret Thatcher. "I am very worried about a Labour Party leader who has changed his party's name, has mortgaged its past to try and buy his personal future," he said.

MEDIA STAR

The Conservatives' man in a chicken suit, employed to follow Tony Blair until he agrees to demands for a television debate, was nowhere to be seen at the Labour manifesto launch. But media interest was intense following reports that he had fought off an attack from a headless chicken and another from a fox. By midday, Tory Chicken had also attracted the attentions of several other creatures including a rhinoceros and two teddy bears. The bears trailed him all morning, reportedly eating crisps and biscuits and smoking cigarettes. One gave his name as Tony Bear, of the Political Picnic Party.

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