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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
The Campaign Today with Nick Robinson

We're on the home straight now, and Nick Robinson has a trackside seat.

Last updated at 6.15pm
Click here for latest update

Subject: Feel a bit suspicious?
Sent: 8.45am

Suspicious about the polls? You're right to be. Look at this morning's Times. Their pollsters Mori had Labour much higher than any other pollster and their lead therefore much bigger.

Miraculously today's poll has them in line with every other pollster. As ever, look at the small print - they've changed their polling technique, mid-campaign.

Cynics suggest that they've moved to be part of the herd. At least then if the polls are wrong they all get culled together rather than Mori being singled out for the bullet to the head.

I of course couldn't possibly comment.

Subject: Is it just me...
Sent: 9.15am

A funny thing occurs to me this morning. There's a week to go, and the journalists covering this campaign are behaving as if the life is seeping out of it. The questions are a bit lacklustre, perhaps most feel that the key ones have already all been asked.

And yet this is probably the first week that most voters are beginning to pay real attention and the parties know that. And for anyone who thinks the result is already known, there are still critical questions the parties have got to get into people's minds.

Take Tony Blair at this morning's conference, appealing in effect for a mandate. He said he wanted an instruction from the voters to invest in schools and hospitals and equally, he said, a sign from them that the Tories have got it wrong.

The Tories want an instruction from the voters to keep up the pressure on Europe and on tax. And the Lib Dems are in effect saying send a message to the government that spending's too low, they're too cautious and the Tories are a rabble.

We tend to think of elections as only choosing MPs and governments but they are vast signal sending exercises too. There are plenty of choices still to be made.

Subject: Soundbites and soundbites first
Sent: 11.45am

The charge made against politics these days is that it's all about soundbites. It should be about more than that but you're in real trouble if you can't come up with a soundbite.

Labour's for today and the rest of this campaign is "Schools and hospitals first". I asked Michael Portillo this morning whether theirs was "Tax cuts first".

Of course not, he said, but then spoke for an awfully long time without quite summing up the message. Helpfully I suggested he was saying "Have your cake and eat it (more spending AND less tax)".

That's frivolous, he replied, but he didn't disagree.

Subject: It's the questions, stupid!
Sent: 12.40pm

You know the old line about computers - rubbish in, rubbish out. It's true about polls too.

The questions asked alter the answers produced - not because polls are rubbish, and not because people are stupid, but because those asked often haven't formed a view and the wording of the question can lead them to a view.

So, MORI's voting intention figures changed today because they showed people a list of the candidates fighting for their vote - in effect reminding them of choices beyond Tory or Labour.

Or look at today's Gallup poll - 64% are against "joining the Euro and abolishing the pound" BUT only 40% agree that "Britain should never join the euro" or "not join for many years to come".

That's a big - election swinging - difference!

It may be that the polls understate people's interest in the debate about the pound because the pollsters ask how important "Europe" is to them and not "the pound".

All this explains why William Hague's so worried about the wording of a Euro referendum - he knows that all governments always word things in the blandest way and in a way which invites voters to say "yes". Sad but it does make a difference.

Am I alone in being totally unenthused by this election? I have been a Tory voter (if I do vote) but can see little point in giving any party the nod or even the 'mandate' to govern on my behalf. Are 25-30's who are on good incomes (i.e. hefty contributors to the coffers) irrelevent to Tony, William and the others?

Teifion James, London.

Subject: Answer
Sent: 2.10pm

I'm sure you're not alone Teifion! Surely, though, the Tories' tax cutting message is directed at you even if it's not the old message of simple cuts in tax rates?

If even well paid ex-Tories are unimpressed, they have a problem. It's certainly true that the focus of all the parties is on "families" and on "pensioners" - largely because there's more of them, they're more likely to vote and because most people like you will one day fit into one of those categories.

I do sense however something of a backlash from childless voters who feel they're being fleeced to subsidise the procreation of others.

Subject: Robinson's law
Sent: 3.30pm

This campaign is an interesting test of Robinson's Law of Elections. The law states that the most important questions that dominate politics are barely discussed at the election that preceeds them: No debate on the poll tax in 1997, little discussion about the ERM at the 1992 election.

The single currency is surely the issue that will dominated the next Parliament. Discussed it has been, but I wonder if the voters will think it has been discussed adequately.

Subject: Baldies v the hirsutes
Sent: 4.30pm

A new Tory split has finally emerged - baldies v the hirsute. A colleague of mine challenged senior Tories at today's news conference on their professed confidence that the polls are wrong.

Would they, he asked, eat their hat if they were to become leader within the year as a result of a Tory defeat.

No answer came from M. Portillo.

"Have you got a hat?" came the cry from a newsman.

"No", quipped the bouffanted one, "because it would cover one of my best features". A second later he realised what he'd said. Poor old William. With sympathies from a fellow baldie.


Subject: Exposť
Sent: 5pm

I fear I may have appeared a bit flushed on News 24 at 3pm. My colleague Guto Harri and I were on the green opposite the Houses of Parliament when a reporter for another TV channel started doing her "pieces to camera" as we call them.

I was just getting ready to talk about public services when the young woman took off her turquoise dress to reveal her key marginals - feet away from our camera. Turned out she was working for the Playboy Channel. And they say this election's dull.

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