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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK
Travelling with the Tories
Correspondents with the Hague team
The election trail is now in its final week, and despite disappointing opinion polls, William Hague's team is showing no signs of slowing down. Laura Trevelyan and Tim Hirsch are still following close behind.


Tim Hirsch's diary, Tuesday 5 June

Following William Hague's tour of Britain's town centres in this campaign provides a bit of an antidote to the apathy which we hear so much about.

Whatever criticisms there have been about the Conservative strategy, his outdoor speeches on the stump have produced moments of old-fashioned political passion, a refreshing contrast to the highly-controlled media events which tend to dominate modern campaigning in Britain.


As he walked back to his car with Ffion, there was a real sense that the election had come alive for a moment in Shrewsbury

Tim Hirsch
Before Mr Hague arrived in the historic market square at Shrewsbury this afternoon, the third of his four stops in this frenetic climax to the campaign, there was already something of a carnival atmosphere.

The Labour-inspired protest machine which has been tracking the Tory leader tour had put on a bit of street-theatre, with one demonstrator dressed as Lady Thatcher pulling strings attached to a schoolboy-attired William Hague, suggesting who was really in control of Tory policy.

When the Conservative advance guard saw what was going on, they encouraged their supporters who had gathered in the square to hold placards up in front of the performance, to keep it out of camera shot during the speech.

Mixed reception

By the time the real William Hague arrived, to a mixture of boos and cheers, there was already lively banter going on between Labour and Conservative supporters in the square, with some elderly Tory women making their views about their opponents as clear as possible without resort to violence.

Tory puppet held by a demonstrator
Hague's walkabout in Shrewsbury had a carnival atmosphere
And a rash of fervent political debate broke out beneath the statue of Lord Clive of India, one of Shrewsbury's local heroes.

Mr Hague is actually at his best in this type of event - speaking from the stump dealing with hecklers, he is often more effective than in the set-piece rallies or town-hall meetings for the Tory faithful, where his oratory can be monotonous and flat on a bad day.

As he walked back to his car with Ffion, there was a real sense that the election had come alive for a moment in Shrewsbury.

A few minutes later the crowd had dispersed, the Hague minders with their blue rope had gone, and the town centre was back to normal.

Election fever is difficult to find in this campaign, and when it comes it doesn't last long.


Tim Hirsch's diary, Monday 4 June

Whatever Mr Hague really thinks about his prospects of moving into Downing Street on Friday, you can't accuse him of slackening the pace of his campaign in the final days.

Tha Hagues on the Tory battlebus
Hague has managed to retain his cheerful image
In fact, the Tory leader's tour has moved into overdrive - after hosting the morning press conference in Conservative central office in London, he dashed off to the Isle of Wight, Cheltenham and the Wirral, on Merseyside, before finishing up in the Scottish city of Perth for an evening rally.

And we are told that the travel plans will get even more frenetic as polling day approaches.

The press corps are beginning to wish they earned air miles on the Conservative campaign jet.

The aim, it seems, is to avoid the impression at all costs that Hague is giving up.

Tory research shows that in 1997, voters in key marginal seats perceived that John Major had given up the ghost in the final week, and did not bother to turn out.

Punctuality problems

Mr Hague was asked recently what his biggest fault was - he replied that it was his irritation at being late for appointments, which put a lot of pressure on his staff.

Followers of this dairy will know that punctuality has not been a hallmark of the Tory leader's tour - he was 20 minutes late for Scottish supporters awaiting his arrival at Perth city hall tonight.

So we can only assume that Mr Hague has spent much of this campaign being irritated - but anyone who keeps as bouncy as he has, with the grim news he has had to face each day, must be good at hiding his feelings.

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