Labour's spin attack plans to play two Tony Blairs

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The Independent Online
Labour has a trick up its sleeve to keep the electorate keen over the next six weeks - not one Tony Blair, but two.

The first Mr Blair to appear at each election event will be a smiling, almost presidential figure who will be surrounded by cheering crowds wearing red rosettes and carrying swathes of red balloons.

But the glitzy, glamorous and even exciting man who is supposed to be created by these scenes will soon be replaced by a more serious character. The second Mr Blair will be found holding in-depth discussions with voters, giving keynote speeches to serious audiences and arguing the toss on policy issues with the unconvinced.

"Enthuse and convince" will be the key to the party's campaign. Mr Blair must be portrayed as a vibrant politician whose presence sparks wild enthusiasm in every crowd, officials say, but he must not appear lightweight. Every shower of red roses must be backed up by a serious show of political weight.

Mr Blair's first election trip, to Gloucester on Monday, was a perfect example of the genre. Step one: as the party leader descends from his train, accompanied by his wife, Cherie, he is greeted by an enthusiastic demonstration and his aides have to clear a path from the platform to his car. Step two: Cherie sits in the back row as Mr Blair, accompanied by the local candidate, takes questions on everything from Europe to prescription charges.

Every scene will be carefully controlled by the party's spin doctors, and many will appear far more spontaneous than they really are. There will be more focus groups of the type seen in Gloucester, and there will also be town-centre walkabouts of the sort John Major attempted in Luton. His wife will accompany him to many of the events, but will not be omnipresent during the campaign.

As for the big set-piece rallies and speeches, these will certainly happen, but will be minutely planned in order to prevent a repetition of the triumphal Sheffield rally which was credited by some with losing Labour the last election.

There will be a big-city rally during the last week or so, and possibly another earlier in the campaign, though party spin doctors are not saying yet where or when they will be. We can confidently expect, though, that they will have a somewhat more serious, statesmanlike air than some past events. There will be rabble-rousing speeches to the party faithful, of course, but these will be interspersed with heavyweight, set piece addresses to "serious" audiences of business people and the like.

While Mr Blair is busy with all this, the key figures in his campaign will be travelling the country, concentrating their efforts on about 100 target seats. This part of the election effort will be spearheaded by Labour's deputy leader, John Prescott, who has just embarked on a 10,000- mile round Britain tour. It will be backed up by every other member of Labour's frontbench team.

Leading women MPs will play a key part in the party's strategy, meeting focus groups of floating female voters in marginal seats and also visiting businesses where many of the staff are women.

Each party regional office has a detailed plan of which politicians will appear in which marginal seats on which days. But with a six-week campaign stretching resources there are many officials who may be wishing they had three, four or even five Tony Blairs.

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