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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Lib Dems on Tour
Hunt and Kelly are following Kennedy
Hunt and Kelly are following Kennedy
Charles Kennedy's whistle-stop tour around the country is now in its second week.

Correspondents June Kelly and Peter Hunt are still following close behind, monitoring the Liberal Democrat leader's every move.


June Kelly's diary, Thursday 24 May

We were five hundred miles away when we got the news. It's every journalist's nightmare - being in one place when the story is happening somewhere else.

Our battlebus was idling in the Edinburgh morning rush hour when word came through of a big story at Lib Dem HQ in London.


The suspect package which had arrived in the mail had been subject to the most rigorous investigation - and found to be a tin containing some home-made scones

June Kelly
There was a bomb scare and all the staff had been moved out of the building. Newsdesks were rung and for a good few minutes we were in that familiar journalistic no-man's land of not knowing what the heck was going on.

Finally we learnt the truth. The suspect package which had arrived in the mail had been subject to the most rigorous investigation - and found to be a tin containing some home-made scones.

They had been sent by a lady well-wisher to the Lib Dem leader, Charles Kennedy.

The lady had seen Mr. Kennedy's manifold appearances on the TV, and had become concerned about his welfare as he zig-zags the country looking for votes.

She decided he was looking peaky and needed some good home-made food to keep his strength up.

The Lib Dem leader is suffering from a head cold, and health generally is a big party theme. Charles Kennedy is constantly popping into hospitals to ram home the message that a better health service can only come through higher taxes.

Normally these hospital visits are of the going round the wards chatting to staff and patients variety.

Kennedy in hospital garb
Kennedy watched an operation
But Wednesday afternoon in Southampton found the Lib Dem leader kitted up like the leading man in a hospital soap. Scrubbed up and dressed in operating theatre gear, he was allowed into a theatre to watch an elderly man undergoing an exploratory heart procedure.

The patient was conscious throughout and we were told he'd consented to having a party leader, two Liberal Democrat candidates, a television crew and a photographer at the back of theatre to observe what was going on.

The rest of us were ushered into a neighbouring room to watch it all on a screen.

At the end of the procedure, Mr Kennedy and his group, camera still going, were introduced to the patient, who could have come straight out of central casting for a Liberal Democrat party election broadcast.

He shook Charles Kennedy's hand and told him: "I'm voting for you, I want to pay more tax to get better facilities for the National Health Service."

The Kennedy spin doctors insisted it hadn't been planned.


Peter Hunt's diary, Wednesday 22 May

At one stage I would have been sitting down to write this diary in an Edinburgh hotel room with no windows.

I didn't know such coffin-like accommodation existed until I joined the Lib Dem battle bus. After a conversation with the front desk I was moved to a room with a view, next to a kitchen.

For the past 14 days, hotels and the quality of the facilities on offer has become terribly important for the BBC team. At times keeping up with Lib Dem policy has been of secondary importance.


We are only halfway through the campaign, and he has already boarded 33 flights and clocked up at least 5,000 air miles

Peter Hunt
"We'll shortly be landing at Edinburgh Airport," announced the pilot bearing the Lib Dem colours. Two minutes later the tannoy crackled into life again. "I am sorry," said the pilot. "I should have said we'll be landing in Aberdeen".

We all sympathised. It was an easy mistake to make. After all, we were visiting our third country in a day, and touching down in our third city with two more to go before sunset.

If this was the battle of the air miles, Charles Kennedy would win. We are only halfway through the campaign, and he has already boarded 33 flights and clocked up at least 5,000 air miles.

But to what end? Is he spreading himself a bit thin? Not at all, comes the reply from the man who was once accused of being too laid back. "I am enjoying it. You can't get too much of a good thing".

Some of the jaded hacks following him from photo opportunity to photo opportunity, up and down the country, might give a different response.


June Kelly's diary, Monday 21 May

On Monday morning, the sun was high and we were on the move - which was quite fitting as it was Transport Day for the Lib Dems.

Every day they have a theme, although often their theme gets overlooked when the other two parties start locking horns over something else.


Like everyone else in Britain, the Lib Dems complain about the state of the railways. The blame is pinned on the usual list of culprits - the Tory government, the Labour government and fat cat bosses

June Kelly
Transport Day found us not on our usual battle bus or battle plane (should that be fighter plane?) but on a train. The Liberal Democrats wanted their leader Charles Kennedy to demonstrate the party's green credentials by using public transport.

We set off like cheery schoolchildren on a summer's day out. All we were missing was our packed lunches.

Our destination was the garden county of England - Kent. We weren't actually going into the prettiest part of Kent, as time pressures meant we had to confine ourselves to the bits which border London.

But there was a headiness in the air as we hurtled out of the city.

Rail misery

Like everyone else in Britain, the Lib Dems complain about the state of the railways. The blame is pinned on the usual list of culprits - the Tory government, the Labour government and fat cat bosses.

No sooner had we left London behind than the trouble began. A freight train had broken down ahead.

We sat and waited, and there was a hint of smugness among the Lib Dem entourage - a random journey exemplified the problems on Britain's railways. In fact we were just under ten minutes late reaching our destination.

The Lib Dems doughty transport spokesman, Don Foster, was aboard with us. We chatted about our delay and who we would have complained to had we been real travellers.

Kennedy
Kennedy meets the party faithful
Sitting across the table from me, Mr Foster decided to go in for a spot of role reversal. With an imaginary microphone in his fist he quizzed me: "So, June Kelly, whose fault is it that we were late?" he asked, gimlet-eyed. "I dunno", I replied, in the style of the dozy interviewee that you come to dread.

"Exactly," said Don, the dynamic reporter still clutching his imaginary mic. "The fact that you don't know who to complain to shows there are too many different organisations involved in running the rail network in this country. This is what's wrong with the system".

I nodded but I'm still not sure who I should complain to.

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