Labour on roll as campaign comes up roses

Patricia Wynn Davies reports on the launch of `the biggest political education initiative ever undertaken'

John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, pledged to banish the boredom and inject some fun into politics as he launched the party's nationwide "Rolling Rose" campaign at an upmarket Thames-side leisure complex yesterday.

There were jokes from the actor Richard Wilson, music from a specially commissioned campaign rock band, the Rolling Roses, a boat laid on to transport journalists and Shadow Cabinet members downriver - and a serious message too.

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, said the eight-month initiative, inspired by Mr Prescott, was the biggest political education campaign undertaken by a modern party, as well as a huge membership drive.

"The campaign is an immensely important innovation for Labour," Mr Blair said from a makeshift podium at Hays Galleria, a former wharf near Tower Bridge. "It will strengthen that bond of trust [with the British people]. We are reaching out to the people through it. We are taking our message to them. And we are listening too to what they say, so as to better inform what we say on their behalf in Parliament."

Joviality seemed more in the ascendant during the Daily Mirror-sponsored production yesterday. "Under Old Labour it would have been raining," declared Frank Dobson, the party's environment spokesman, from the leisure-craft Suerita as the morning sunshine bounced off the Thames. There were jokes about going with the tide - and all out to sea.

The red-rosed Shadow Cabinet members who lined up on a platform above the Rolling Rose trailer looked like so many dancing girls. But Labour appears to have paid attention to the details. The Rolling Roses line- up includes two female vocalists as well as a more middle-aged looking male.

The assembled public appeared to lap it all up, despite the odd twinge of detectable embarrassment among some of the party high command.

Party membership has risen to 322,000 and Labour made the most of that by inviting four recent converts to pose for the cameras. Why join the Labour party? Aaron Clarke-Wills, a 29-year-old trainee barrister, was asked. "Is there a sensible alternative?" he replied.

The 150 events in the tour will include shows combining political debate with comedy, satire and music and a day at Brighton races on the eve of this autumn's party conference.

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