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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Life on the Lib Dem battlebus: Week 3
Kennedy with his battlebus
Kennedy's battlebus is still rushing round the country
By campaign correspondent Peter Hunt

Charles Kennedy emerged from the back of the battlebus to deliver what he clearly viewed as good news.

He told the assembled reporters the latest poll finding - Liberal Democrats were up to 19 per cent and closing the gap on the Tories.

His press secretary cheered. The hacks smiled politely. Then Mr Kennedy went back to his seat and fell asleep.


Mr Kennedy is good out on the streets, where his ready wit helps to disarm. He can be more awkward, even embarrassed, in more formal settings like hospitals

Peter Hunt
The gruelling, unrelenting pace was, not surprisingly, catching up on him. We'd already been in Sheffield and the Lake District today, and were heading for Inverness. It's an everyday tale. Sometimes we travel for long periods in order to have precious minutes on the ground.

Take Thursday - three and a half hours from London to Paignton in Devon, eight minutes answering questions from Lib Dem pensioners and then their leader was off to do some local media interviews.

Targetting regional television

Publicly at least, party workers defend their strategy. They say it's all about getting Mr Kennedy seen out and about across the UK. The goal, which is being achieved, is to get his face on regional television programmes.

It means, of course, that the man who declared he wanted to be available for all-comers often doesn't get to meet many real voters.

He's been in five schools and nurseries. Some of the children won't have the vote for 15 years. He's called it the slow burn approach to politics.

Kennedy with a copy of the Lib Dem manifesto
The Lib Dems are buoyed by recent opinion polls
Walkabouts can be chaotic affairs, with photographers and camera crews acting as a barrier to the public. One special branch officer revealed they provided a useful shield if anyone did try to attack the Lib Dem leader.

Mr Kennedy is good out on the streets, where his ready wit helps to disarm. He can be more awkward, even embarrassed, in more formal settings like hospitals.

It's how most people might react - but then most people aren't seeking election or positioning their party as the credible opposition if there is another Labour government.

Beyond the election

The Liberal Democrats are in bullish mood. They're looking beyond the finishing tape. They say their private polling and anecdotal evidence shows the Conservatives are "imploding", to use their words.

The Lib Dems won't get into the game of predicting their final tally of seats. They currently hold 47, some of which are vulnerable. They're targeting at least 20 others.

A senior aide has set them a publicly acknowledged goal. He said they would look foolish - and they wouldn't look like a credible opposition - if they failed to narrow the Tories 14% 1997 poll lead over them.

One poll has already suggested this is achievable. We'll know the verdict of the electorate on June 8th.

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