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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 17:30 GMT
The Campaign Today with Nick Robinson

It's the end of the second week of the campaign. Join Nick Robinson as he goes in hunt of the issues, throughout the day.

Last updated at 6.20pm
Click here for latest update

So, after all, Prezza beat the count. Extraordinary success for a Labour spin operation. Lots of people have said that spin is dead in this election because of the voter confrontations. Don't you believe it.

Labour took a few hours on the day of that punch-up to decide what to say, but quickly they came up with the line that he did what anyone would have done in the circumstances and he defended himself. That's the line they used, they used humour as well, and they pulled if off brilliantly.

I coulda been a contender: Sepia tinted photos of Prescott in his younger days
Compare that to the Tories who had three different lines yesterday about John Prescott. One minute they were telling him to cool it, another they were making gags about it, and another they were saying it was a symbol of a government in trouble. They simply couldn't make their minds up.

But all the people at Westminster I know agree on that if only the protester had taken the punch, fallen, and said he couldn't see in his eye, John Prescott would be out of politics. The fact he chose to fight back saved John Prescott's skin.

It's now clear the Tories really meant what they said when they said William Hague wouldn't turn up every day for news conferences.

Wherever the Westminster pack is to be found, William Hague is never to be found. The clever thing, of course, is that he is answering questions on televisions up and down the country, but he's never where the political editors are.

And this is for a very deliberate reason. They fear that the pack, as the Westminster lobby system is often known, would turn into a bear pit in which he would be questioned about poor poll results, Tory leadership tensions and pressed again and again on whether his policies stack up. And they've calculated that they've got a lot more to lose by facing that questioning than they have to gain. The question is how we journalists fight back. I'm working on it.


Is Hague expecting to be branded a racist today, but is prepared to forego this for communicating his policy on asylum?

Philip Cable, London

Phillip, I think that in the past, William Hague has been willing to be labelled that way. His spin doctors have almost invited people to do it so that he can get extra praise for being willing to take the label, the name-calling from the liberal elite, in order to speak what they refer to as the common sense views of the British people.

I'm not sure that's what happening on this occasion though. His speech goes out of its way to praise the contribution of asylum seekers, referring to Nazism, referring to the way the Tories allowed the Ugandan Asians in after persecution from Idi Amin in the '70s. I think maybe they've played that trick once too often during the "foreign lands" speech which has now become notorious and he couldn't risk it again.


Just to say that I really enjoy your daily internet notebook - and the flavour it gives of journalism in the making. I like your column's transparency. What worries me a bit about the way the election is being covered, though, is the sense of a laddish grudge match between journalists and politicians. It may be great fun - but is it fair to the parties?

Mark O'Brien, London

Being praised for being transparent as a journalist sounds worryingly like Sir Humphrey telling Jim Hacker (in Yes Minister) that he was being brave!

I hope we're not in a grudge match. I like most politicians and, contrary to popular opinion, think most of them aren't in it for themselves.

However I also know what tricks they play and want to resist the parties' cast-iron control of the words and pictures in this election.

Take John Prescott. He did one soft interview yesterday in which he wasn't even asked whether he'd made a mistake when he punched a member of the public.

Or William Hague's avoidance of scrutiny by the Westminster press pack on tax or asylum. Or the Liberal Democrats limiting one of their key policies - joining the single currency - to one line on the back page of their manifesto so as not to scare off voters who want to keep the pound. It's part of my job to challenge these things. Isn't it?


Labour's new-style manifesto-lite (pictured right) has been published. It's part of the Woman's Own-ing of the Labour Party. And here's my verdict on it.

(Click to listen)


It would appear from reading the Chilean press that far from suffering for his outburts, John Prescott has been rewarded with a promotion. Yesterday's edition of "Segunda" featured the incident as their "photo of the day" and twice referred to Prezza as prime minister. Is there something we're not being told?

Jane Shuttleworth, Santiago, Chile

The man who commissions this piece has just told me it's Friday and what the time is. I have to say it feels like it could be any day of the week at any time of the day or night. Elections are like that, but at least in the last few days some meat has entered this election's spin sandwich. Let's hope we can add a little relish next week.

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