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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April, 2003, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
'Boring' election under attack
Aneurin Bevan statue
Bevan statue should be torn down to start a debate, says former AM
Campaigners for the Welsh Assembly have turned their attentions to youth - but two leading political figures have admitted that the election has been "colourless" and "boring".

As the Liberal Democrats and Labour emphasised their plans for the young, the Conservatives called for a stronger drive to attract tourists to Wales, and Plaid Cymru gave details of its ideas to create jobs and spread economic growth more evenly across the nation.

But Plaid Ceredigion MP Simon Thomas confessed that the campaign for the 1 May vote had been "fairly colourless" to date, while Rod Richards, the former leader of the Welsh Tories, accused all the main parties of saying the same things.

In typically colourful fashion, Mr Richards said the best way of stirring up a debate in this campaign would be to tear down a statue of NHS founder Aneurin Bevan.

Migraine

With just over two weeks before polling on 1 May, senior names in the political parties have expressed concern about the election being overshadowed by the war in Iraq.

Liberal Democrats and young footballers
Liberal Democrats with young footballers in Swansea
Observers believe the dramatic events of the past week in particular may have contributed to a perceived lack of interest in the campaign.

Mr Richards said he was missing the assembly "like a migraine" and voters found it irrelevant and boring. He took a swipe at all the main parties, and said voters could not distinguish between them.

Mr Richards, who became an Independent Conservative after falling out with the Tory group, said the Labour health minister Jane Hutt was "about as convincing as an Iraqi information minister."

He accused Plaid Cymru and the Tories of being "like the French - they'll veto anything even before they've seen it", while the Lib Dems were "like Russia - they support the winning side, whoever it is."

Revered

Mr Richards said hauling down the statue in Queen Street, Cardiff, of Nye Bevan - a figure revered by Labour supporters in particular - would begin a debate on whether he got it right when he founded the health service.

About as convincing as an Iraqi information minister
Rod Richards on Jane Hutt

On the campaign trail, the Lib Dems put the spotlight on youth crime when their Westminster home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes visited a "football in the community" project in Swansea.

The party said schemes run in Swansea by the police under the assembly-funded programme "Splash Cymru" had helped to cut youth offending locally by 17% in 2001/02.

Peter Black, the Lib Dem candidate in Swansea East, said: "Sport is crucial to stopping kids turning to crime and drugs. Football teaches teamwork, aggression control and promotes a healthy drug-free lifestyle."

'Amazed'

Labour also used an MP - Westminster education minister Stephen Twigg - to publicise its policy of half-price bus travel for 16-18-year-olds.

Girl on bus
Labour says it will give half-price bus travel to 16-18-year-olds

Assembly transport minister Sue Essex said the policy was inspired by the success of free bus travel for older people.

"Many young people are on low incomes and have to use the bus, but what has also amazed me is how many say they have never used buses," she said.

The scheme would cost 15m over four years of the next assembly term, and Ms Essex said a Labour assembly government would fully fund the scheme.

'Broken promises'

Plaid Cymru gave details of what it said would be a "completely new approach" to creating jobs and distributing prosperity across Wales.

Plaid wanted to promote local economic aims for seven regions across Wales, and would target support for around 200 key businesses that showed "rapid growth potential" in key sectors.

Plaid MP Simon Thomas criticised Labour for a "litany of broken promises" on economic development, and claimed there were failures to increase gross domestic product, meet job targets, support manufacturing and attract inward investment.

Lisa Francis, the Conservative candidate for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, wanted more support for the tourism industry, which was essential to 6,000 businesses in Wales.

She said her party would continue to oppose a compulsory registration scheme for bed and breakfast accommodation, and called for more tourist information centres, which should also stay open longer.

"It's time to get our priorities right in this industry," said Mrs Francis. "It's time to let them move on unhindered so they can get on with what they do best - increasing wealth and creating jobs."




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