Blair to ditch election campaign battle bus

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair fired the gun for a 5 May election yesterday, but faced criticism as it emerged that he planned to dispense with morning press conferences in London and do away with the campaign battle bus.

Tony Blair fired the gun for a 5 May election yesterday, but faced criticism as it emerged that he planned to dispense with morning press conferences in London and do away with the campaign battle bus.

Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's former director of communications, who will be brought back for the election, has persuaded Mr Blair to abandon the traditional format for past election campaigns and adopt a more direct approach to the voters used by George W Bush in the US presidential election.

Mr Blair will appeal over the heads of the national media directly to voters by being seen at local events, backed by local party supporters.

Hundreds of radio stations across the country are being invited to hold radio phone-in programmes with the Prime Minister or other ministers in the campaign.

Liam Fox, the Tory party joint chairman, said: "This is further proof that Tony Blair is terrified of facing proper scrutiny."

Tory leaders last night also accused the Prime Minister of ducking a challenge by Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, for a presidential-style television debate as part of the campaign. "They are having TV debates in the Ukraine, but Tony Blair won't have one in Britain," said a Tory source.

Denying the charge, a Labour official said: "This is not about avoiding scrutiny. We are not just going to have the Prime Minister on Richard and Judy. He will still be open to questioning, but it will be around the country."

Alan Milburn, Labour's campaign strategy chief, said the new style of campaign was an attempt to overcome media and Conservative "cynicism" to "connect with the public".

It is unlikely he had in mind the punch thrown by John Prescott in the 2001 campaign after the Deputy Prime Minister was hit in the ear by an egg. But Mr Prescott will be back on the road with his own battle bus for the campaign.

Mr Campbell was disillusioned with a hostile national media - a theme he has pursued in his personal appearances since resigning from Downing Street in August 2003. He left during the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly, which exonerated Mr Campbell.

Mr Campbell will be unpaid for his part-time role but is likely to be a frequent visitor to the new Labour headquarters in Victoria Street, Westminster, a few doors from the Tory HQ above a Starbucks coffee house.

Peter Mandelson, Britain's EU commissioner, is also expected to offer his informal advice to Mr Blair but the leadership is keen to avoid exacerbating tensions with Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who is still bruised after being replaced by Mr Milburn as strategy chief.

Mr Milburn said the campaign will be "anchored" in the economy, and will promote optimism over cynicism.

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