Euro vote: how was it for you?: Three would-be MEPs look back on their campaigns Interviews by Isabel Hilton and Angela Lambert

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The Independent Online
GRAHAM MATHER, CONSERVATIVE

'It was a challenge initially to move the discussion on from national to European issues. Conservatives fell into two main camps: core Conservatives, rock- solid, and another group who would say, 'I've been a Conservative all my life, but . . .' They would then express a reluctance to vote until the party had corrected its mistakes - which in practice usually meant the leadership problems; or they would criticise us for dropping out of the ERM. The law and order issue came up frequently.

'As soon as I switched the discussion to the topic of Europe, (by saying, 'I'm not here to defend the Government's mistakes,' at which they would take a step back in surprise), they would almost always express the view that we shouldn't move any further towards rule by Brussels.

'The Prime Minister's 'multi-speed Europe' speech was a flag round which they could rally.

'That's not to say most people wished we weren't in Europe. I don't think I met anyone who wanted us out of the EC. At the other end of the spectrum, there were only about a dozen federalists who wanted to see a single European government.

'The vast majority of the people I talked to take being in the Community as read, but they believe we joined for reasons of trade and didn't think there was any mandate for closer political union.

'A very very popular claim at any meeting was the feeling that other countries did not enforce regulations strictly enough: from animal welfare (this was a strongly felt issue) to health and safety, farming subsidies, compulsory business inspections, and so on.

'They recognise that if some countries are complying and others are not, the single market will be distorted. The trouble is, the EC finds it more exciting to initiate and pass new laws than to enforce existing ones. Many people wanted to see a move from the EC as dynamo to the EC as enforcer.

'I found on the campaign that people have much longer memories than they are given credit for. Take a mistake like the qualified majority voting or the ERM humiliation. Don't think it's forgotten in two weeks. Chauvinistic, xenophobic views were notable by their absence.'

Graham Mather (North Hampshire and Oxford) was interviewed by Angela Lambert.

MICHAEL HANCOCK, LIBERAL DEMOCRAT

'I enjoy campaigning and I did enjoy it, but it was a very stop-start campaign. The weather was uncommonly cold and wet and we started the campaign at least three times: once because of John Smith's death, once because most of Hampshire was shut down for three days because of the D-Day celebrations here and then because of D-Day in Normandy. It all took time out of what was already a short campaign.

'But it was a good campaign, fought mainly through literature. We put out around half a million leaflets and two issues of a newspaper. We were suffering less from voter fatigue than worker fatigue because we'd had the local elections and we lost a lot of key people to the Eastleigh by-election campaign. That ran for three months so everyone was very stretched.

'The usual things happened. You spend a lot of time fretting about whether printers have let you down and whether there is a spelling mistake in a leaflet that's been checked by two English teachers who still can't spell Wednesday. We had a few meetings, but it was mostly gladhanding and backslapping in shopping centres - generally annoying the public. I suspect they are happier to see you go than arrive.

'By far the biggest issue in the letters and the questions was animal rights. I'm a campaigner for animal rights and I've fought four parliamentary elections, but I have never known such interest in the issue. The county council banned hunting, and we have the Channel ports, so the export of live animals is a big local issue. Europe didn't come up that much apart from with special interest groups like the Motor Cycle Action Group and the farmers. People on the doorstep didn't talk about Europe much and the local media weren't interested. The national media were bogged down with what Major thought.

'I think the worst moment was getting up at 5am on election day to deliver an early morning leaflet. When a tabloid attacked my private life, I thought, I've had political attacks before, but this was the first one that involved my private life. It was unhelpful, shall we say, and not very pleasant for my family. But I took the view that it was my business and didn't comment.

'The result will be close. There's been an upsurge of Labour sympathy because of John Smith and there is a rebel Tory, John Brown, who will take somebody's votes. If we lose, it will be because of the Labour sympathy vote.'

Michael Hancock (Isle of Wight and Hampshire South) was interviewed by Isabel Hilton.

ALLAN MACCARTNEY, SNP

'It's been a good campaign. We got a good response to putting up the issue of Scotland's place in Europe and the campaign theme 'Power for Change' got a very positive response - people saying we have to have a change, we can't go on like this. The party was well motivated, too. The good local election results had boosted everyone's morale. We had a week's moratorium for John Smith's death, then it seemed to take off again like a coiled spring. The north-east was awash with black and Day-glo yellow posters: we certainly won the poster war by a landslide, but as a friend of mine says, posters are a candidate's security blanket. You see a poster and you feel much better.

'I've no idea how many miles I covered. Last time I fought it, I did 30,000 miles. My car's up to 115,000 now but still going, more or less. The back windscreen wiper motor seized up and we had to pray for dry weather once. We had more razzmatazz than we've had for a while: a battle-bus and the Macmobile. And we had the man-in-the-van - someone volunteered for this one. He took a camper van and covered it with stickers and drove around playing music.

'Europe was an issue, up to a point. The one bit of Tory propaganda that people have believed is the idea that Brussels is taking over everything. We're for Europe, but we don't want Scotland to lose her identity. But it's not a referendum on the Tories here because the Tories don't have any European seats in Scotland.

'People were more concerned with VAT on fuel - that was a big issue and lots of pensioners are switching to us, unusually. Normally we get the youth vote, but it's very fickle. Pensioners don't usually change the habits of a lifetime. Water privatisation was another. People saying, 'How can they do this. We vote against them time and again and nothing changes.' So we say, if we had a Scottish parliament this wouldn't happen.

'I took part in seven candidates' meetings, but it was bit difficult for television to arrange these things because we had four no-hopers: one from the North East Ethnic Party, who announced his candidacy on 1 April, one Natural Law Party, they of the fixed gaze and the single response, and the Greens and the Communist Party. Apart from that, there were three of us who had fought it last time. It was different for me this time because I started in third place last time and it was hard to convince people I could take it. This time I started second and the bookies have it as a two-horse race.

Allan MacCartney (Scotland North East) was interviewed by Isabel Hilton.

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