New forum to grab the constituency 'switchers'

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Tony Blair met 12 people who had previously voted Liberal Democrat or Tory, in yesterday's Littleborough and Saddleworth "meet the people" session in Delph, on the edge of the moors, writes John Rentoul.

They had been recruited by Labour Party workers on the telephone over the weekend, from canvass returns.

The idea of talking directly to small groups of voters was first used in the Dudley by-election last autumn. "It's more real than walking down the high street or meeting party members," one party official said.

It was only in the Eastleigh by-election campaign a year ago that Labour abandoned the all-ticket rally, when John Smith addressed an open meeting and took questions. "We haven't got a problem with far-left groups any more," the official said.

The format helps present Mr Blair as a listening and learning leader, rather than laying down the law from a platform.

So-called "switchers" are recruited over the telephone, because "putting out leaflets is no longer enough".

The Labour leader picked up one extra unsolicited vote from the young man on the hotel's reception desk, who said: "I don't understand why so many people say they vote Labour for local elections and Tory nationally.

"I'm a Tory, so I vote Tory for local elections, but for the country you want a leader. That's what I think."