Prescott's silver bus joins fleet of Labour Rovers

Election countdown
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Labour has spent tens of thousands of pounds hiring a fleet of 40 Rover saloon cars to ferry its senior politicians around during the election campaign.

Although the party has refused to comment on its election arrangements or on what they would cost, the bill for its executive cars would amount to almost pounds 80,000 at commercial rates.

Tony Blair is also expected have two "battle-buses" and access to a helicopter, while John Prescott will travel in a specially-converted coach. But other shadow Cabinet members will travel mainly in the special election cars and by train.

Some of the lease vehicles will be based at party regional offices around the country for the use of officials and visiting politicians. Others will stay in London and will ferry senior figures around the capital and on electioneering visits to the provinces.

The cars will form a major part of Labour's battle armoury, though their cost will only make up a fraction of the total election bill, which is expected to come to between pounds 15m and pounds 20m.

At the last election the party spent pounds 10m, pounds 7.6m of it during 1992 and the rest during the preceding three years, but this time the bill is expected to be much higher.

In the past, 80 per cent of the party's funding came from the trades unions but that figure is thought to have dropped to around 50 per cent. However, fund-raising from business has been intense, with individual donations believed to be in excess of pounds 6m.

Among the high-profile figures who are reported to have given money to the party are Alec Reed, founder of the Reed Personnel Services employment agency, and Greg Dyke, chief executive of Pearson Television.

The "Prescott Express" was unveiled yesterday with great ceremony. The former 50-seater coach has been painted silver-grey with a red-rose logo and the slogan: "Prescott Express on the Road." It also bears the legend: "It's Good to Vote." Inside there is a conference area, work space, a rest room and a kitchen. It also carries a portable stage and sound system.

Mr Blair's two buses have not yet been seen, but they will be visible every day during the main election campaign. The Labour leader is also expected to charter planes when necessary.

After the party's conference last September Mr Blair left by helicopter for a tour of marginal seats, and he is expected to take similar trips during the election.