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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 February, 2005, 15:15 GMT
Labour phones homes to win voters
John Reid, MP
Labour calling: John Reid was available for questioning
Voters have been given a direct line to Labour cabinet ministers during a pre-election cold-calling campaign.

When the telephone rang in selected homes on Saturday lunchtime, the unsuspecting recipients were told they could speak to a Cabinet minister.

John Reid, Charles Clarke, Patricia Hewitt and Ruth Kelly were Cabinet members who took part.

The unsuspecting people called had been identified as potential Labour voters by canvassers.

By-pass media

The technique, which comes from the United States, is one of several interactive campaigning methods being tried by Labour in the run-up to the next election.

Party leaders hope to by-pass the media and engage directly with voters by phone, e-mail and text message.

You want to forego the opportunity?

The four ministers - the health secretary, trade and industry secretary, home secretary and education secretary - joined a 100-strong team at Labour's call-centre in Gosforth, near the venue of this weekend's party spring conference at Gateshead, for the campaign.

Calls are made from the office all year round to voters in constituencies across Britain, canvassing support and gauging the concerns of the electorate.

For an hour on Saturday, there was the added attraction of a chat with someone in a position to actually change things.

However, not everyone called was keen.

"I've got Ruth Kelly here, can I put her on the line for you?" one telephonist asked a reluctant mother.

"You want to forego the opportunity? That's fine... you attend to your son."

Pinpoint support

Ministers did succeed in striking up conversations and Mr Clarke promised to "take up" one individual's concern at the lack of bobbies on the beat in his village.

Cold-calling is playing an increasing part in the campaigning strategies of all main parties, as an efficient way of pinpointing supporters and measuring the popularity of policy initiatives.

The people called on Saturday were in four Labour-held seats - Battersea, Hastings and Rye, Harrow West and Elmet in West Yorkshire.

They had been identified by earlier canvassing as potential supporters of the party, but were not warned to expect a call from a minister.

The call-centre team is working its way around every constituency in the country, and there is every chance of ministers joining them again before the election.

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