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Monday, 14 May, 2001, 20:01 GMT 21:01 UK
The Campaign Today with Nick Robinson

Follow the start of week two of the campaign, as brought to you throughout the day by Nick Robinson.

Last updated at 8.20pm
Click here for latest entry

Today was the first day that the parties held their daily news conferences - an opportunity for us in the Westminster pack to challenge the parties on their claims and counterclaims.

I'm Nick Robinson, and I'm going to be spending a lot of the next four weeks on BBC News 24 reporting how the campaign is going. Whatever happens over the next month, there are going to be plenty of twists and turns. I'm also going to be bringing them to you here on BBC News Online.

Wherever I am during the day, as we cover this huge unfolding story, I'll keep you in touch with what's going on - by e-mail, phone, camera and text message.

First signs this morning that the Tories are feeling the heat that we all expected them to feel throughout this campaign.

They surprised everyone with a slick first week in which questions rarely threw them. But today there's no doubt they were unnerved by questions about their tax plans - questions stemming from the Financial Times's splash that they are looking at tax cuts of 20bn, paid for by "vast savings".

The Tories wouldn't confirm the figure at their news conference and as the piranhas began to circle, Michael Ancram insisted there was no more time for questions. He said Francis Maude had to go elsewhere and the news conference had started late.

But these excuses didn't satisfy any of us.

Add to that that William Hague has only faced the Westminster pack once - at his manifesto launch - and already Labour are saying that the Tories are running scared.

They are going to have to come up with some more detailed answers and put Hague through the mill if this story isn't going to take off.

Gordon Brown's going to make the most of this discomfort (Click to listen)

For all those who want to break the party machines' hold on politics, it's got to be good news that Martin Bell is standing for Parliament again - it adds to the gaity of the nation. But the fact is that this is not a re-run of what was happening in the last election.

Last time he was standing against someone prominent, against someone who was in the governing party, who was controversial.

Martin Bell himself had only just finished his TV career which made him a personality in his own right, and that meant he was getting huge public and media attention.

This time round none of those factors are the same. He's running against a relatively obscure junior Tory frontbencher, on an issue that isn't terribly important to people nationally, and won't guarantee him much national media.

So for those who are hoping for a re-run for the Battle of Tatton and the White Suit versus Mr Sleaze, they're not going to get it this time.


Sure enough Labour couldn't resist picking up on the Tories' embarrassment on this 20bn figure. They're trying to flush out the source of the story as well. The rumour mill said it was Oliver Letwin, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, so Labour have sent him a letter challenging him to admit that he was indeed the source of that story.

And Tony Blair has weighed in after Gordon Brown's speech today. He's going tonight to label this "Hague-onomics", the idea that you can tax less and spend more, and going to say that in a nine-minute news conference, it didn't even stand up to nine minutes of scrutiny, this Tory economic policy.

Now Margaret Thatcher has made her first appearance. The Tories looked pretty cautious about using her in this campaign at all. Worried, embarrassed even, that William Hague might be labelled "Son of Thatcher". Worried too, perhaps, about reports from the Thatcher dinner parties that right wingers so enjoy going to that she wasn't very impressed by the new young leader of the Tory party.

But she was wheeled out in Finchley in order to campaign for the candidate in her old constituency, and she did deny suggestions that William Hague wasn't up to the job. And she even defended Ted Heath when it was suggested to her that he'd said Hague was not somehow up to the job.

Now another great figure, another great female Iron lady, Geri Halliwell comes into the news tonight by appearing on Labour's party election broadcast. I thought Charles Kennedy probably had the smartest gag about Geri's appearance by saying that he did hope she didn't walk out on New Labour in the way she walked out on the Spice Girls.

In answer to your question, Bill, the number of Westminster news conferences to date is Blair two, Kennedy one, and Hague one, ie his manifesto launch.

He also launched the Scottish and, today, the Welsh manifestos, and there the comments caught up with him.

Hague was not seen for questioning from Saturday to Monday afternoon. He was, however, seen in his car outside Conservative Central Office just before this morning's nine-minute news conference at which he did not appear.

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