Labour's frontline troops rehearse their phrases

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The Independent Online
Talking to half a dozen Labour key-seat candidates is a bit like setting off an assortment of those clattering teeth they sell on the sea front at Blackpool.

Wound up by pre-election fever, they fall over each other in their eagerness to put the party line. Immaculately groomed, politically and sartorially, they exude new Labour from every pore. Not one could be induced to contemplate defeat for even a moment at a candidates' session with Tony Blair in a London hotel yesterday.

All agree that their party's campaign will be a very different operation this time. Directions from headquarters are much more clearly focused.Some have been out on the stump for months, and talk bemusingly of "switchers" and "barometers". The language is pure Blair, and all are clearly keeping their "five Labour pledges" close by them on tax, class sizes, crime, National Health Service waiting lists and youth unemployment.

Debra Shipley, candidate for the new seat of Stourbridge, who needs a 4 per cent swing from the Conservatives, says she uses Mr Blair's list of promises all the time. "I can get them over very clearly," she said.

Even a question about which issues are playing badly brings a response about how well things are going. "We have lanced the problems that we did have," said Siobhain McDonagh, who is standing for the third time in Mitcham and Morden against Dame Angela Rumbold, a former minister with a 1,700 majority. "People will ask you how you are going to pay for your commitments, which we have real answers to."

Naturally, they are unimpressed with the Tories' latest electoral wheezes. Plans to expand the cadets elicit an almost controversial response from Chris Ruane, a primary school deputy head standing in the new Vale of Clwyd seat. "I could think of many more focused ways to spend the money than teaching young people to march around a square with a gun," he says.

Quick as a flash, Siobhain McDonagh leaps in to add that of course the cadet corps provide a useful service. She saves the day. Just for a moment, it looked as one of Blair's new model army might air an independently formed opinion.