Tories swear by familiar values as poll alert sounds

James Cusick on how well prepared the parties are
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The Independent Online
For the Conservatives it will be the old-fashioned "bodies" delivering leaflets and knocking on doors. However, for Labour's general election machine, reorganisation under Tony Blair means that new American- style "schools of efficiency" will try to win power for the first time in more than 20 years.

Brian Mawhinney's "election alert" address yesterday gave the strongest hint yet that the Government is not entirely confident of seeing out 1996. For Pat Smith, organising head of the joint Conservative office in Brighton, the call to arms was not too alarming. "With local elections last and this year, we're on permanent stand-by. We're geared up."

Mrs Smith, responsible for the two marginal seats of Brighton Pavilion and Brighton Kemptown, said "bodies" would again be the key feature of the Tories' organising strategy. Bodies to run committee rooms, polling stations, carry out canvassing, stuff envelopes, knock on doors. "People don't back you if you don't knock on their door."

With Sir Derek Spencer defending a slim majority of 3,675 in Brighton Pavilion and boundary changes favouring Labour, Mrs Smith should be pessimistic. But she is not. "They wrote us off last time, they'll do the same this time. But we are convinced we can win."

Labour organisers in Norwich are resorting to tactics field generals would be proud of. Norwich South's Conservative MP, Patrick Thompson, is standing down at the next election and Labour has chosen Dr Ian Gibson to fight the seat. Election alert or not, Labour appears to have now moved up a gear.

The assistant agent, Neville de Melo, said :"We are now operating under our `key-seat programme'. There is a key-seat school and conference being held in March, and key-seat leaflets have been sent out."

A meeting in Norwich will be held next month to allocate "key jobs" for the party election machine. Monthly newsletters are sent out and Dr Gibson has written a letter to be delivered to all constituents in January.

The Liberal Democrats' "target seats" approach means that Southwark and Bermondsey MP, Simon Hughes, can expect helpers to flood into the capital from other constituencies which have little hope of success.

Mr Hughes's head of office, Graham Salt, said: "Simon has a large personal following. So a large mail shot organised quickly is crucial."