Election `97: Major's faithful fill the Albert Hall

Colin Brown sees a spectacle to match the Proms' Last Night
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Indy Politics
John Major last night accused Tony Blair of being "out of his depth" in an attempt to raise the morale of the party with a rally at the Royal Albert Hall featuring a finale of Union flags and "Land of Hope and Glory".

Making the patriotic defence of the Union a key battle ground for the election, Mr Major wrapped the Tories in the Union flag in an offensive against Mr Blair's retreat on tax-raising powers for the Scottish Parliament using the strongest language so far in his campaign against the Labour leader.

Mr Major said the nation was at stake in the election, with Labour threatening it at home - with devolution - and abroad, with its policy on Europe.

He told 2,000 supporters at the Albert Hall: "It's a man way out of his depth, struggling and losing his grip on his own policy - this is incompetence, pure and simple."

The Prime Minister's speech was rewritten to harden the section on Mr Blair's policy U-turn on Scotland and it was delayed by the bomb alerts at mainline London stations, which left many seats empty in the audience.

"With his words, Mr Blair both insults Scotland and breaks the promise he's given them for a long time," said Mr Major.

"This is the man who only yesterday asked Britain to trust him ... What a fall is here, from powerhouse to parish council in one soft phrase too many from the Labour leader."

In spite of the trappings of nationalism, the party appeared to have fallen flat. Party leaders were clearly worried that an over-the-top demonstration might backfire, like Labour's Sheffield rally in 1992. One woman sported a John Major knitted doll, and a garland of Union Jacks in her hair, but being over 20 points behind the polls, there was no mood of triumphalism.

The loudest cheers in the hall, associated with the jingoistic celebrations on the Last Night of the Proms, came when Mr Major said he would be isolated in Europe, if necessary. "If you are not prepared to be isolated in Europe, you have no right to lead this country," he said, amid the waving of huge flags.

Portraying Mr Blair as the bogey man, Mr Major accused him of "hypocrisy" for saying one thing and doing another over the choice of the Oratory for his children, although Labour was opposed to an expansion of "opt out" schools, which is proposed in the Tory election manifesto.

Mr Major called on the party faithful to go out on the doorsteps during the campaign to press home their Britishness. "I bet most people get a lump in their throats from the Last Night of the Proms. It is our pride which shows our special British sense of fun on that great night," he said.

Only hours after warning that Labour's Scottish devolution plans could boost English nationalism, Mr Major was surrounded by the symbols of British nationalism.

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