Election '97: US writers offer no respite

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The Independent Online
Spin doctors and soundbites, razzmatazz and auto cues, personalities overshadowing policies, and two main parties with similar manifestos - American journalists feel at home covering this election.

The presidential-style campaign being waged by John Major and Tony Blair has also, perhaps, made the contest more accessible to parts of the US media. And this has led to some acerbic dissections of the characters of the two men.

Tony Blair has suffered by far the more in this, and surprisingly from a writer who may have been expected to be in sympathy with the leader of New Labour.

Joe Klein, the "Anonymous" author of the now famous Primary Colours, and representing The New Yorker, was the sole foreign correspondent granted access to the Blair battlebus in its journey up and down Britain.

The magazine, which regards itself as the voice of sophisticated East- Coast liberalism, is edited by Tina Brown who, it has been said, covets the job of arts minister in a Blair government. Her journalist and publisher husband, Harold Evans, has organised Labour fund-raising bashes in New York. But this did not prevent Mr Klein from penning some trenchant criticism: "If Bill Clinton is the ultimate salesman ... Blair at times seems the ultimate sales clerk anxiously peddling toaster ovens ..."

If Mr Blair is handicapped by his perceived similarities to Clinton, John Major suffers badly in comparison with the one modern British politician the Americans know well, Lady Thatcher. Writing in Newsweek, Stryker McGuire stated that on Europe "Major has been unable to keep a couple of hundred would-be MPs in line. This raises questions about his leadership - and unfavourable comparisons with his predecessor Margaret Thatcher's toughness..."

Time magazine noted Labour's long march away from socialism under Mr Blair. It said: "A party once identified with red flags, brown suits, and Marxist shop stewards had already eaten its share of humble pie, if not spinach."