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The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"The prime minister is well aware that the style of his campaign has been criticised"
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Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Labouring on the road
Correspondents on the PM's trail
Correspondents on the PM's trail
Tony Blair is now in his second week on the road - up and down the country convincing the voters to give him a second term.

Carolyn Quinn, James Robbins and James Helm are following close behind.

James Robbin's diary, Thursday 24 May

There was a time when students were in the forefront of "agitprop" protest, and could be counted on to live up to the label "revolting".

Today, at the University of Glamorgan, just one undergraduate had a go at the prime minister.

Andrew Chaplin
Student Andrew Chaplin challenged Blair
Andrew Chaplin, in politically correct style, jogged up to the PM's side in white shorts and a T shirt -there's no gain without pain - before blurting out his complaint. He argued that tuition fees are keeping the poor away from campuses up and down the land.

Andrew Chaplin, doing Media Studies, certainly ran into the media spotlight.

He lambasted Tony Blair, saying many students couldn't scrape a living.

The prime minister, he said, was failing to create the classless society he promised, while imposing vast debts on students before they had any chance of getting a job to start the long process of paying them off.

Tuition fee debate

But if this was a bit of a stunt, the protest over student fees and loans was repeated time after time during a far more sober question and answer session inside - moderated by the University Vice Chancellor.

Many of them complained to him about how much they were in debt and how tuition fees were deterring people from applying to university.

Whenever you want a battlebus, there never seems to be one, and then three come all at once

James Robbins
Gareth Jones, a computer studies student, told Blair he was 4,000 in debt and had friends who were as much as 14,000 in the red as a result of paying tuition fees. "There must be a better way," he urged Blair.

The prime minister told the students the election presented them with a clear choice. His party was committed to expanding the number of university places, while William Hague's Conservatives would slash the university budget, he said.

But tonight, with the battlebus parked here in Bristol, it's time for a song on the Blair trail.

Charlotte Church will be telling us it's "Summertime" with Gershwin's music - as if we didn't know in a city sizzling in the heat, and reeling from the knowledge that all three party leaders are in town tonight, with rival meetings.

Whenever you want a battlebus, there never seems to be one, and then three come all at once.

James Helm's diary, Wednesday 23 May

It's 7am and Labour's battlebus, also carrying a gaggle of journalists, is departing Millbank tower in Westminister, the party's headquarters and election hub.

It is the morning after Baroness Thatcher's speech and the papers are full of more allegations and counter-allegations about Europe and tax.

However, Labour's chosen theme - they pick one for each day of the campaign which they push vigourously - is education.

Tony Blair and student Jo Balchin
One student challenged Mr Blair but still got a photo
At 10.15am we are at Itchen College, Southampton, and Labour's slick press machine has successfully organised the weather - gloriously warm and sunny.

Students crowd behind the security barrier as word goes round about the special guest.

Students blink at the 20-30 cameramen and photographers who capture every single moment from behind the security tape a few feet away.

One of the students challenges him. Jo Balchin, an 18-year-old studying for three A-levels, asks Mr Blair about the effects of student loans and tuitions fees.

'Big event'

The hacks in their headphones scribble down his answer. Jo in her Union Jack T-shirt has her photo taken with the prime minister.

At 11am it is time for the "Big Event" of the day as Labour sets out its education manifesto at Southampton University's lecture theatre, a short bus ride away.

The glossy document is dished out to journalists. It is called "Realising the talent of all" and has a classroom of keen-looking children on the front.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair spent time in the classroom
We already know the major pledges - increasing teacher numbers by 10,000 and raising education spending as a proportion of national income.

It is a well-managed set piece event of the sort Labour are said to do very well - Tony Blair joined on stage by Education Secretary David Blunkett.

Many of the audience are party supporters or education professionals and the first two rows are journalists.

After his speech he takes questions from the press, which reporters complain happens all too rarely.

Blair's frustration

Rather than being tackled solely on education questions, he is asked about European tax harmonisation and national insurance.

There are groans from the rest of the audience. Blair becomes frustrated and to loud applause tells us that education is the issue today but the media concentrate too much on incidents, personality and process and too little on policy.

At 3.30pm the battlebus is at the Royal Manor School in Portland and we have gone past stretches of gloriously wide, sun-drenched sand along the way.

Tony Blair
A media scrum surrounded Mr Blair on his arrival in Portland, Dorset
Conservative MP Ian Bruce is defending a local majority of only 77 from his labour challenger.

Blair tours the class but after the two press coaches have rolled off, there is an "unscheduled stop".

Mr Blair meets floating voters on Weymouth seafront who just happen to be ready for his arrival.

Weary, and in some cases sunburnt, the hacks hunch over their laptops as the buses head north.

James Robbin's diary, Tuesday 22 May

It was a funny old day - in a very hot London.

Tony Blair didn't stray from the capital today. There are plenty of marginals to defend, and lots of votes to contest inside the M25.

The prime minister stayed mum on tricky topics - steering well clear of the skirmishing between Labour and the broadcasters, including the BBC, over the reporting of his campaign.

Blair at the Royal Marsden
Blair visited the Royal Marsden on Tuesday
"That's a matter for others" pretty much sums up his reluctant response to questions about Labour's "private" but leaked allegations that broadcasters were colluding with protesters and putting the safety of Labour staff at risk. By evening, it looks as if this spat is blowing over.

But the PM chose his words with great care on other issues too. Opening a new cancer research laboratory in the Royal Marsden Hospital, Tony Blair simply abandoned the entire text of a short prepared speech we'd been given in advance.

I think he realised it was too party political, when he was paying tribute to the extraordinary dedication of research scientists, doctors, nurses, fund-raisers and patients at this, the largest cancer treatment and research centre in Europe.

He said he was humbled by the courage of patients, so he restricted himself to a general commitment to increase "public investment" and ensure that cancer care and research could continue to improve.

Even the journalists who were desperate for a fag gloomily accepted that they couldn't really go outside on the spectacular balcony of the Marsden and have a quick smoke.

So everyone behaved pretty well today.

Our correspondents report from the battle buses

Following Blair

Following Hague

Following Kennedy

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