'I end up not knowing what the parties believe, just what they don't like - and that's each other'

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Indy Politics

Throughout the general election campaign, The Independent is attempting to gauge public opinion on the politicians and their pledges by canvassing six focus groups which represent a cross-section of British life.

Throughout the general election campaign, The Independent is attempting to gauge public opinion on the politicians and their pledges by canvassing six focus groups which represent a cross-section of British life.

Twelve days into the campaign, we ask a selection of people from the groups what they have learnt from the parties this week.

Nick Howett, 21 Lives: Cardiff Vote: Probably Liberal Democrat

"The only leaflet I have had through is from the Liberal Democrats. They seem to be the only people fighting an election campaign at all, which is really quite strange in such a marginal seat. The only posters I have seen in people's windows are also for the Lib Dems.

"I know the Tories are quite far behind, so they may have given up, but Labour's majority was less than 700 in the last election, so it seems very bizarre they are not out campaigning.

"The Liberal Democrats are running a positive campaign, but they do not realistically have a chance of getting in. The other parties are just having a slanging match. It seems to suggest they are both as bad as each other. I end up not knowing what they believe in, just what they do not like - and that is each other."

Gerald Robinson, 66 Lives: Cardiff Vote: Conservative

"The Labour campaign is totally incompetent; they are avoiding all the issues that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats bring up. They are coming in a very bad third. I've watched their television campaign and it was laughable, bits of it were incomprehensible.

"I have had a Liberal Democrat leaflet through the door, but it was coloured blue. They are a bizarre bunch, but they are likely to win the seat, or at least, so the polls say.

"The Labour and Conservative manifestos are all old, although I think the Tories will surprise everyone with something about tax.

"The Conservatives have come round to the door, but no one else. Jon Owen Jones (Lab) should be coming round to people's houses, but people have had enough of Labour in this area. The waiting lists for hospitals are so bad here. One lady that we know, who is 82 years of age, has to pay £10 a week for her wheelchair. It is scandalous."

Shruti Dudhia, 21 Lives: Essex Vote: Undecided

"Charles Kennedy's baby is good publicity. It has brought the Liberal Democrats to the forefront, which otherwise would not have happened.

"The Conservatives must have spent millions on their advertising campaign, but it has been devalued in Colchester, because almost all of the billboards are covered in graffiti.

"I live on the university campus, and think the parties are underestimating voter apathy, in students in particular. They need to engage with students directly, but I have not seen anyone canvassing on campus."

Carla Bower, 25 Lives: Kent Vote: Liberal Democrat

"In Whitechapel, where I work, Respect and the Liberal Democrats are very visible. You cannot walk down the high street without being handed Respect leaflets. I think both parties feel that the Muslim Asian vote in the area is open to either of them.

"There seems to be an assumption that the Conservatives' immigration policies are unfavourable, and with the war and Guantanamo, Labour are unlikely to pick up votes.

"And while the Liberal Democrats and Respect are so prominent, Labour may be worried that they would do themselves more harm than good in the area if they were more visible.

"The manifestos have little to say. Arguing over who has got figures wrong appeals very little to members of the public. The decision is based on the past records, on what they have actually done, not on promises of what they will do."

Phil Clift, 73 Lives: Dorchester Vote: Undecided

"In West Dorset we're surrounded by posters -particularly from the Liberal Democrats. They don't say much - "Vote Lib Dem" or "Lib Dem is winning this seat" - but they have made a huge effort. I'm considering voting for them, even though I'm a Labour supporter, to keep the Conservatives out.

"Michael Howard is looking nasty and aggravated. He's deliberately conflating immigrants, asylum-seekers and criminals into one issue.

"I don't think his spitting, dog-whistle agenda is cutting the ice quite the way he wants. I don't see the collapse of society from where I'm sitting. Their angry campaign seems to be turning the momentum back towards Labour."

Bridie Jones, 53 Lives: Canterbury Vote: Labour

"What has struck me this week is that none of the parties are bringing anything really new to the table; all three are jumping on the same wagons.

"The Conservatives are a big force - but a big, hateful force. People want to know why Howard is so angry. He's very good at picking on the down-and-outs and could be a dangerous man if elected.

"The most different party are the Liberals and maybe people will give them a chance because of that. Some of their policies seem slightly silly but Charles Kennedy's baby couldn't have come at a better time - everyone likes a family man."

Genevieve Roberts and Oliver Duff

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