Hello floating voter, Harriet calling

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The Independent Online
Are you a middle-class, educated, working mother worried about the state of the NHS and schools and wondering whether to vote Labour for the first time? Perhaps a call from Harriet Harman could persuade you.

Or might you be a salt-of-the-earth sort, fearful that politicians care little for the working man and wondering whether Labour is tough enough to deal with the unions and big business? Maybe the rough, gruff tones of John Prescott would help you make up your mind.

It might sound fanciful, but Labour's telephone canvassing operation has become so sophisticated that matching voters with the shadow Cabinet member who would most appeal to them is now a distinct possibility during the election campaign.

Labour has been wooing floating voters ever since 1992, when a post-election inquestshowed canvassing in lost seats such as Basildon had been poor and patchy. Activists have been seeking out floating voters and gathering as much detail as possible about them in the 57 key marginal constituencies needed to secure an overall Labour parliamentary majority.

Those on the electoral roll are identified as definite Labour voters, or floaters who need further encouragement to back Tony Blair and team. The wooing has been constant: floaters are telephoned regularly, visited and receive party leaflets and letters. At Christmas, they receive a call of seasonal greetings. Their concerns, be they about health or schools or jobs, are noted.

Officially, Labour denies that its records are this detailed; but activists confirm that at the touch of a button, a voter profile is available. "If I want to know who are the elderly voters in a constituency, concerned about pensions, I can find out straight- away," said one volunteer.

So, if your phone rings in the next few weeks, be warned: Tony and Harriet and John all know - it's good to talk, especially if it gets you into government.