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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Is anybody listening?

At the end of week three, the election still seems to be being held for the benefit of journalists.

By Scarlett MccGwire

The politicians might well ask whether anybody is listening.

Scarlett MccGwire
Writer and broadcaster Scarlett MccGwire knows all about how Labour's most senior figures present themselves to the press and public: when they were still in opposition, she taught them how to handle the media
And we might equally wonder whether they actually care.

Sometimes it seems that this election is being held for the benefit of the journalists, so that they can scrap with the parties and hone their poisoned words.

The voters might be the supposed audience, but sometimes we are forgotten by both sides.

The amount of money, time and effort dedicated to this campaign is staggering.

And yet, in their rational moments, every politician knows that elections have been won or lost long before any campaign has been announced.

No rabbits out of hats

This government has fundamentally delivered on its last manifesto. Its members have proved themselves able managers with a bit of redistribution thrown in.

Each party has had four years to prove itself. we're unlikely to fall for rabbits out of hats at this late stage

Meanwhile every big idea that the Tories have come up with in the past four years has been proved to be a back of the envelope solution, with analysis exposing their flaws.

Each party has had four years to prove itself; we're unlikely to fall for rabbits out of hats at this late stage.

After losing the 1992 election, Labour's first job was to prepare for winning the next one. And they set to work.

When Tony Blair became leader, finally the cards were stacked in their favour.

Mood for continuity

Labour rightly sensed the mood in 1997. The people, tired of Tory ineptitude and sleaze; wanted change and things really could only get better.

The euphoria on the streets and general feeling of wellbeing when Labour won was incredible to experience.

William Hague is finding out that bandwagons don't work in elections

This time round, both parties immediately started working for the next election.

Labour announced that its objective was a second term. Government strategy and tactics were tailored to his end.

And William Hague took over from John Major. Unfortunately he has bounced from cardigans to the faux-cool of the Notting Hill Carnival and the baseball cap.

Then tried "compassionate Conservatism" before dumping it in favour of right-wing populism, losing him much of the more tolerant Middle England.

We all know he wants to win, but he's finding out that bandwagons don't work in elections.

The electorate has seen Labour in action and basically most people like what they see - whereas they keep telling the pollsters that they are in favour of neither the Conservatives nor poor William Hague.

Lib Dem honesty over result

It took John Prescott's left hook to make the first genuine story of the campaign.

The spectacle of insults being thrown, statistics being manipulated and parties trying to get by on half-truths is hardly encouraging us to take politics seriously

And after seeing the television pictures most people were sympathetic to the man's instinctive reaction. As Tony Blair said, John is John.

The Conservatives accused Labour of being scared to meet the people and demonstrated their openness by deciding to limit their press conferences. Photo opportunities are so much more pleasant - no boring questions.

We should be grateful to the Liberal Democrats. Is this the first election thy have come clean and admitted that they will not be the winning party?

It must have been so exhausting for David Steel and Paddy Ashdown to keep up the pretence, perhaps that explains why they were always rather short-tempered during election campaigns.

Of course this election is important. It is important that Labour is given a second term to carry on with the masses of work still to do.

But it is more important for them to be given a mandate by the people.

And the spectacle of insults being thrown, statistics being manipulated and parties trying to get by on half-truths is hardly encouraging us to take politics seriously.

We must not become like the United States, where apathy rules.


BBC News Online's panel of ex-spindoctors from the main parties assess the campaign so far
The ex-spinners' view

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