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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
Lib Dems on tour
Hunt and Kelly
Hunt and Kelly follow Kennedy's every move

June Kelly and Peter Hunt report on the first week of the Liberal Democrat campaign trail.


Peter Hunt's diary, Friday 18 May

It started badly and got worse. The Lib Dem plane, buffeted by strong winds on the flight from London to Birmingham, at one point dropped down in the clouds.

The food trays clattered onto the floor. In films, such an incident would be funny. In reality it was more unsettling.


If he were ever to give up party politics, I've suggested to Charles Kennedy he could write a book entitled, "Regional Airports I Have Known and Loved"

Peter Hunt
Charles Kennedy has a punishing schedule. He's attempting to criss-cross the UK to reach some key constituencies. So today, it was London to Birmingham by plane and onto a coach for the drive to Ludlow in Shropshire.

Post turbulence, on the coach, Mr. Kennedy was quizzed by a features writer from a national newspaper.

They discussed his favourite TV programmes and astronomy. The 41 year old politician asked an aide, "What's the definition of middle age?" "You are," came the reply.

After nearly four hours travelling, we arrive in Ludlow. The drill is now clear. As Mr. Kennedy gets off the bus he's surrounded by the local candidate - useful for regional media consumption - and enthusiastic supporters with party banners.

They provide the upbeat image of the party leader for national television and try to drown out the protests of Tory sympathisers brandishing "Keep the Pound" placards.

Mr. Kennedy insists he wants to meet the people. The presence of television crews and journalists sometimes makes that difficult.

Kennedy
Kennedy is on a whistle-stop tour of the UK
He walks up and down the main street and then he's off again. It's lot of travelling for a 30 minute walkabout where he only chatted to a few shoppers - but the TV and radio coverage has been secured.

Back on the bus, it starts to go wrong. Heavy traffic delays the coach and a planned trip to Sussex is cancelled. A Lib Dem flight to Biggin Hill is diverted to Newcastle.

If he were ever to give up party politics, I've suggested to Charles Kennedy he could write a book entitled, "Regional Airports I Have Known and Loved".

During the long journeys in the coming weeks, I'll try and come up with a snappier title.


June Kelly's diary, Thursday 17 May

There is the election battle and then there is the battle of the battle buses.

Ever since this campaign got under way, there has been a degree of rivalry between the parties as to who is offering the best facilities on their bus.

The food, facilities and comfort factor has been analysed and compared. Of course, this is all of minimum interest to voters, but it keeps Westminster watchers entertained.

Being the smallest party with not as much money to spend as the other two, the Lib Dem transport is on a slightly smaller scale.


The Big Banana has been used as a tour bus by the super star Diana Ross and also the rock band Manic Street Preachers

June Kelly
But a party which insists it will move into a stronger position after this election is determined not to be cast as a minnow on the bus front. Its main battle bus, known as the Big Banana, is bright yellow and an eye-catching feature on any motorway.

In fact the Big Banana is just one of the vehicles in the Lib Dem fleet. We journalists have already travelled on the Medium Sized Banana and the Little Banana - names which don't roll off the tongue so easily, but you get the message.

Bananas in all senses are a Lib Dem feature. On the bus there are chocolates and crisps but there is also healthy food like fruit at each table - just what one would expect of the Lib Dems.

And while the other parties might offer booze and haute cuisine on their buses, the Big Banana can boast a real history.

In the past it has been used as a tour bus by the super star Diana Ross and also the rock band Manic Street Preachers. The Big Banana knows it can outdo the others when it comes to glamour and cool.


Peter Hunt's diary, Wednesday 16 May

It was a location a Labour party strategist at Millbank might have fought shy of. A vibrant street market in South London as the setting for a leader's walkabout.

The pitfalls were obvious. The crowd couldn't be controlled or vetted. The photo opportunities were potentially perilous if the politician passed by the stall selling frilly knickers.

But these worries aside, Charles Kennedy's aides chose East Street Market as the place for him to press the flesh.

"We are a party on the move even if we are not moving very quickly this afternoon," remarked Charles Kennedy fresh from launching his manifesto.


Mr Kennedy bought a pound of bananas - it wasn't really the sort of place where he could have asked for 500 grams of fruit

Peter Hunt
It was an understatement. He was hemmed in on all sides by vigilant detectives, persistent camera crews, Tory demonstrators brandishing Keep the Pound placards and shoppers trying to go about their business.

No such luck. They were unwitting, possibly unwilling, extras sucked into a media whirlwind. The backdrop for any items on television about the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

For a man busy criss-crossing the UK in a Lib Dem battle bus and plane, it was a convenient moment to do some shopping.

Mr Kennedy bought a pound of bananas - it wasn't really the sort of place where he could have asked for 500 grams of fruit.

And as he added to his collection of tracks by the Corrs and David Bowie with a purchase of a "Reggae Rendezvous" CD featuring Bob Marley, he promised not to break into his rendition of "No Woman No Cry".

He handed over a fiver and told the stall holder to keep the 2 change until he was reminded that bribery wasn't the way to secure votes around here.

Charles Kennedy seemed to enjoy the walkabout. He was received with some warmth and no hostility. "This is what politics should be about," he enthused. "People can just buttonhole me."

The Lib Dem manifesto
Kennedy announced his manifesto on Tuesday
At first glance it looked like any other walkabout that might have happened in the past. But on closer examination, you could spot the two microphones discretely attached to Mr Kennedy's tie.

The broadcasters, particularly those involved in 24 hour news, want to hear him talking to the people. And the Liberal Democrats know how important it is for the television audience to hear their man. In this election nothing is left to chance.


June Kelly's diary, Monday 15 May

Imagine - it's Monday morning and you're frantically trying to drop your child off at nursery school.

You park, as usual, on the double yellow lines outside, because you're only going to be a few minutes.

Only today you're told by police officers in plain clothes - all with earpieces and darting eyes - that you can't stop here this morning.

The reason? The general election campaign has come to your area.

The Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy's first visit on the first day of the first full week of the campaign - we journalists do love a first - was to a nursery school in north London.


Afterwards, the Lib Dem leader admitted that he was worried that when baby was removed it might - in the way that babies do - leave a damp patch on his knee

June Kelly
Harassed mums cradling, trailing and in some cases dragging their offspring were forced to weave their way through Lib Dem minders, rows of photographers and yards of television cables.

The children, aged from 0 to 5, were too young to be embarrassed about the fact that they were suddenly appearing on television.

Bemused and intrigued by all these strange people running round making a lot of noise, they began tucking into their morning Rice Crispies.

Story time

And when a man in a smart suit called Charles gathered them around him for a story about a brown bear they listened politely, even though it was clear from their expressions that some of the older ones had heard it many times before.

Isn't that what elections are all about - politicians telling the same old story?

Later one of the nursery's smallest members - a young baby - was plonked on Charles Kennedy's knee for a photocall.

Afterwards the Lib Dem leader admitted that he was worried that when baby was removed it might - in the way that babies do - leave a damp patch on his knee. He didn't have a change of clothes with him.

Babies are great props for politicians during an election campaign - they're also great levellers as well.

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