LETTER from THE EDITOR

pounds 7,500 is a little steep for the privilege of hearing soundbites and seeing the back of the Blair coach speeding along the motorway
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The Independent Online
I haven't been offered a bribe, yet. There have been heavy and indignant phone calls from most of the political parties - we monitor them, trying to ensure that we are getting parity of abuse - and at least one (journalistically) improper suggestion. ''We won't forget this,'' has been snarled at me more than once.

This is roughly what I expected editing a newspaper during an election campaign to be like. But, so far, there have been no satisfyingly concrete offers of cash, preferment, material goods or government contracts in return for pulling David Aaronovitch off this, setting Polly Toynbee on to that, or altering the drift of the front page. No extortion, no payola, nothing sleazy at all. Maybe the campaign isn't quite at fever pitch just yet.

On the other hand ... the money demanded by the political parties from newspapers to get our correspondents on to the leaders' buses may not be extortion, but it is beginning to feel extortionate. As Steve Boggan, travelling on the Tony Blair bus convoy, says in today's paper, they are seeing very little of the leaders and are able to do too little in the way of proper, informative reporting. For the main parties, there are around 50 journalists each, paying pounds 7,500 or so for the privilege: the pounds 375,000 must pay for a lot more than the hired buses and the coffees.

I can justify this to our shareholders if we are getting hot, fresh stories. But it's a little steep for giving reporters the privilege of hearing soundbites and seeing the back of the Blair coach speeding along the motorway. And the money obviously matters a lot to the parties. One of our photographers, David Rose, was obstructed by Labour campaign workers while trying to photograph a Blair walkabout in Northampton. Though Rose was in a public place, he was told he couldn't try to take pictures because he wasn't ''accredited''. The following day, this was spelt out: he wouldn't have any more problems ... provided he wrote a cheque out straightaway for his pounds 7,500. ''We are not a charity,'' snapped the party official. Well, thanks. We'd gathered that. Any readers who are losing sleep about the prospect of relations between the press and the political parties getting too cosy during this campaign can, I think, set their minds at rest.

Finally, a few weeks ago I mentioned in passing that in the Twenties, Bolsheviks apparently called their children by what they thought were Western names, such as Embryo and Vinaigrette. Now a Mr Salonen writes from Vantaa, Finland, to say that in the Soviet Union many people admired the achievements of their own country, too: ''This fact was reflected in the children's names- such as Energy, Tractor and The Second Five- Year Plan.''

And not only there. Despite this week's Labour wobble, and John Major's genuine self-confidence, I remain sure that Tony Blair is heading for Downing Street. This belief is reflected in the names being given to new- borns in north London at the moment. In the homely terraced streets of Kentish Town, New Labour parents have taken to giving their daughters names such as Faith, Ciabatta, Roquette and Tottie - which is short for Tough-on-the-Causes - while in the estates and flats that hug the slopes of Highgate Hill, there are whispers of baby boys being named Millbank, Mandel, and Grant, which is an abbreviation of Grant-Maintained. Any readers who have given their children similarly inspiring names are asked to write in and share their happy news.

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