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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 April, 2005, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Below the radar
Michael Crick with the Newsnight helicopter
Michael Crick has taken to the sky with the Newsnight election helicopter, and what a dashing figure he cuts.

He's been filing regular reports for Newsnight which you can watch again here online.

Wednesday 4 May
Monday 2 May
Friday 29 April
Friday 22 April
Thursday 21 April
Monday 18 April
Tuesday 12 April
Monday 11 April
Thursday 7 April
Tuesday 5 April

Wednesday 4 May

With less than 24 hours of the campaign remaining, Michael decided to land three, nay four, wannabe prime ministers in one day.

Some time with Charles Kennedy indicated that the Liberal Democrats were in an optimistic mood, wandering the streets of Brent East in north-west London. The happy atmosphere must have rubbed off on Michael, who was overcome with the sudden urge to visit the seaside. To be fair, this was in pursuit - or rather ahead - of Gordon Brown, due at a seaside hotel in Great Yarmouth. A little mingling with expectant Labour activists and Michael was soon ejected from the premises. For some reason, Labour had omitted to put Michael's name "on the list".

While 'Newsnight 1' has bravely faced all kinds of atmospheres during the campaign - particularly chilly ones - it seemed that Michael Howard's campaign chopper was having a bit of trouble with bad weather, causing him to divert away from Yarmouth to Norwich where a mad scramble for Conservative supporters was called for at ten minutes' notice. Michael met Michael with open arms, but while one Michael went in by the front door the other was forced to nip round the back. No prizes for distinguishing one Michael from the other...

Finally, Tony Blair was sticking with his friends in Scarborough for his last (ever) campaign speech as party leader. If the writing isn't on the wall in this election, it may be written in the sand instead - but who'll be left standing when the tide comes in?

An overhead picture of the sweeps festival in Rochester
Rochester in Kent - full of swings and swing voters
Monday 2 May

With Tony Blair warning that a vote for the Liberal Democrats could let the Conservatives in, Michael Crick went to Rochester in Kent to enjoy some Bank Holiday frolics at its annual sweeps festival and meet some of its many swing voters.

There, Michael was overjoyed to win a toy helicopter - which may just solve some transport problems when Newsnight 1 is retired after the election - and then decided to conduct his very own May poll, (no dancing required).

How many of every ten people who voted Labour in the last election intended to do so again?

Friday 29 April

John Prescott might well be described as the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Labour election campaign, turning up in towns and villages and then disappearing again.

John Prescott
That's not to say that such elusive behaviour could get the better of Michael Crick who, despite considerable reluctance on the part of the Deputy Prime Minister's office to part with any information about his itinerary, managed to catch up with him in Yorkshire.

Mr Prescott was naturally very pleased to see Michael, describing him fondly as "Biggles of Newsnight". That's alright, though, as Mr Prescott rather reminded Michael of Les Dawson on a tour of the northern pubs.

The Deputy PM didn't really want to answer any of Michael's questions, either. Could it be that Michael just wasn't "ordinary" enough for him?

Friday 22 April

Colourful candid characters. Every election needs them, but perhaps not every party leader.

Neither Boris Johnson nor David Blunkett are strangers to controversy but both are still out on the campaign trail and Michael Crick decided to catch up with them both this week.

Boris Johnson and father on a squash court
Like father like son
Boris was in Devon where Michael found himself in conversation with not one Johnson but two. Boris had been joined by his father for a charity squash match. Michael ducked the flying balls with all the skill of a politician ducking answers, favouring a post-match chat with father and son in the bar afterwards.

Four months after quitting as Home Secretary, David Blunkett was in Worcestershire where he just couldn't help meeting other people's babies. Michael followed him to a flower stall to help him search for a fuchsia and was surprised to be offered a "Prescott kiss" in return...

Thursday 21 April

When Jeremy Paxman asked the prime minister - more than once - if he knew how many failed asylum seekers remain in the country illegally the PM was unable to produce a figure.

Not one to shirk a challenge, Michael Crick determined to see if he could work out a figure for himself - with a little help from Newsnight 1, of course.

First destination: Dover...

Monday 18 April

Haltemprice. Constituency of two MPs - Alan B'Stard and David Davis. One is a fictional character, the other is deputy leader of the Conservative party. It might well be worth not getting the two confused, particularly as Mr B'stard's Haltemprice is supposed to be somewhere in North Yorkshire, while Mr Davis' constituency comes punctuated with a clear "and Howden".

A lot could happen in the next couple of weeks. David Davis could become Home Secretary or, if the Liberal Democrats have their way, he could lose his seat entirely.

Haltemprice and Howden is seventh on the Lib Dem hit list in what is known as a "decapitation strategy". Well worth a visit then, from Michael Crick and Newsnight 1, to find out to what extent Mr Davis is being diverted from the national campaign to protect his seat back home.

Tuesday 12 April 2005

Imagine Michael Crick's surprise when he encountered a Green Goddess being used as a campaign vehicle. Unlike the trusty Newsnight 1 that took him to meet it, the Green Goddess wouldn't even start.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has a majority of 9,000 in his Lancashire constituency of Blackburn. It's been Labour-held since 1945 but even Mr Straw is admitting that campaigning is much tougher than during the previous two elections.

According to Mr Straw, it's not so much a case of "don't mention the war" as "let's get the war out in the open". In his experience, Iraq gets mentioned so little on the doorstep that he has to raise the subject himself.

A picture of Jack Straw
A Green Goddess is just one of Mr Straw's opponents in Blackburn
But there are others in Blackburn more than happy to raise the issue - hence the aforementioned Green Goddess and the candidate inside it who wants the people of Blackburn to "Sack Jack" over Iraq.

And he's not the only one hoping to give Mr Straw a shock on polling day.

Michael's met representatives of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee who are running a negative campaign against the Foreign Secretary, but who don't even have a candidate of their own.

All too much for Michael to resist, really.

During the 13.04.05 edition of Newsnight we made the following correction in respect of this film:

"Just before we go a quick correction to last night's report from Blackburn. We said that Craig Murray, the independent candidate and former Ambassador, was sacked by the Foreign Secretary after denouncing Uzbekistan's use of torture. The Foreign Office would like us to make it clear that Mr Murray was in fact suspended on full pay pending disciplinary investigations into his conduct as Ambassador. Subsequently he applied for early retirement. They would also like to make clear that while ministers were kept informed, the decisions in this case were taken by civil servants and not Jack Straw."

Monday 11 April 2005

A new week and it was off to the north-west of the country for Michael in search of a double-quarry.

With Blair and Brown out campaigning together to stress the importance of "unity" in the run-up to the election, this famous double-act have been able to shrug off much of the media recently by moving about in their own helicopter. Undeterred, the much prettier Newsnight One managed to beat them to their destination.

Michael couldn't resist a few questions about the Chancellor and PM's appearances together, even pondering what their wives must be thinking about it all.

It was enough for the PM to show Michael his fists.

Thursday 7 April 2005

Map showing the Newsnight helicopter over Sedgefield
With Michael Howard suggesting that Tony Blair is a liability rather than an asset to the Labour campaign, we decided to send Michael Crick to the PM's home constituency of Sedgefield.

There, Mr Blair is facing opposition from a number of independent candidates - among them the former MI5 spy, David Shayler.

A perfect place, therefore, for Michael to set down the Newsnight helicopter and make a few enquiries as to whether the people there still love Tony.

Tuesday 5 April 2005

It was a double touchdown for Michael Crick on day one of the election campaign.

A small coup for the Liberal Democrats took the Newsnight helicopter to Ribble Valley in Clitheroe in search of the Labour candidate who had defected to them that morning.

But how much did Stephen Wilkinson actually know about the party he'd joined? It would have been rude for Michael not to ask.

Later that day, the Newsnight livery could be seen descending on Sale in Manchester, scene of Michael Howard's campaign speech.

Michael Crick arrived ahead of Mr Howard, but Mr Howard had a much larger chopper. If only he could be persuaded to leave it...


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