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The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
spends a day with the Liberal Democrats
 real 56k

Monday, 21 May, 2001, 10:59 GMT
Life on the Lib Dem bus: Week one
Kennedy campaigns in another confined space
Kennedy campaigns in another confined space
By campaign correspondent June Kelly

After a week on the road with the Lib Dems, various things are becoming clear.

For a start, Charles Kennedy's frenzied itinerary means that all of us following him will have aged 20 years in three weeks.

We have also found that there is a limit to how many battle bus ham sandwiches you can eat, and that covering Mr Kennedy's campaign progress means learning to move in a special way.

When you're the smallest party, your main aim is to appear bigger than you really are. So the few walkabouts that the Lib Dem leader has done have been confined to narrow streets and tiny squares.

This is helped by the fact that many of the seats which the Liberal Democrats are either fighting to win or fighting to retain are in extremely picturesque parts of the country.

Camera crews from rival TV stations look at though they are surgically attached to each other as they stumble backwards amid the occasional cry of "Mind that baby buggy"

June Kelly
Take Ludlow in Shropshire, for instance - described as one of Britain's most beautiful country towns. Charles Kennedy pitched up in Ludlow's Castle Square and then followed a small twisty street down to the delightfully named Butter Cross.

He was hemmed in on his right, left and behind by Lib Dem supporters waving the party's yellow diamond-shaped placards.

This bunching together meant that we had Liberal Democrats in bulk around their leader so that for the cameras walking ahead of him, the image was one of a thronging, thriving party. It's a bit like holding a rave in a studio flat.

Because Mr Kennedy campaigns in confined spaces, we in the media have to adopt the same hugger-mugger approach as his supporters -- only we're walking backwards to record his every move and word.

To the amusement of onlookers, camera crews from rival TV stations look at though they are surgically attached to each other as they stumble backwards amid the occasional cry of "Mind that baby buggy" or "Left, go left".

Friday found the Lib Dem entourage in Frome in Somerset. Party strategists had chosen Frome's narrowest alleyway for a street address by their leader.

The by now practised routine came into play. The media set off backwards like a human centipede and Mr Kennedy and his supporters came towards us as one.

Kennedy has a hectic schedule - and so too do the correspondents
We moved at the pace of a very slow waltz, and neither of the partners seemed particularly light on their feet. In Frome as in other areas, the local candidate was under strict instructions to stand shoulder to shoulder with his leader throughout the visit, to ensure he got in every camera shot.

The result is that, wherever he is, Charles Kennedy looks as though he has become one half of a set of Siamese twins.

In this, his first election as Lib Dem leader, Kennedy says he wants to get close to people. He's certainly on intimate terms with his party and the press.