Leaders out on stump for longest ever election trail

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Indy Politics
John Major and Tony Blair were out on the election trail yesterday, marking the beginning of the longest general election campaign the voters of Britain have ever had to endure.

Pressing the flesh and touring the studios of a television soap opera, the Prime Minister signalled his intention to lead a presidential-style campaign.

Although he has yet to name the date, ministers were confident the Government would survive until a planned election on 1 May, leaving the public with another 115 campaigning days to go before polling day.

Mr Major was in Leeds, meeting businessmen and some of the stars of Emmerdale, while Mr Blair was in London visiting a training centre.

The Tory party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, opened the Tory campaign with a poster depicting a typical British family, played by actors, shedding a single red tear and the slogan "New Labour, New Failure".

Today Mr Major will be intensifying the impression that the election is already under way by holding the first of a series of White House-style press conferences. Mr Blair is planning to hold his own press conference tomorrow.

The Prime Minister will be flying out to India for a week-long trip tomorrow but that is likely to offer little respite in the "phoney war" before Mr Major names the date for the general election.

Touring the sets at Emmerdale, Mr Major confessed he did not have much time for viewing because of his tight schedule. But he added: "The rest of my family are great fans of soap operas."

He spent nearly an hour looking at the sets used in the series and chatted to the actor Peter Amery, who plays Chris Tate, son of Frank, the owner of Home Farm, and Jane Cameron, who plays the nanny Sophie.

She said: "He was very interested in what we were doing but said Emmerdale is on too early in the evening for him to watch."

Launching the poster campaign, Mr Mawhinney also published a 28-page dossier claiming that a Labour government would spell disaster for Britain. Every Labour administration in the past had taken the country to the verge of bankruptcy, it said.

Alistair Darling, shadow Treasury minister, said the campaign and dossier showed the Tories were "deeply frustrated that our prudent and honest account of our programme in government means they must invent targets to attack because the real things do not exist".

Labour started its own run-up to the general election yesterday with a visit by Tony Blair to a training centre in west London. The Labour leader chatted to 16-18-year-olds who had left school without qualifications.

It was "sad" that the Conservatives felt the need to spend so much money on making up untruths about the Labour Party, he said. "This country wants to have some chance of hope and opportunity in the future, not just see the parties scrapping with each other in negative advertising."