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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
Labouring on the road
Robbins and Quinn on the PM's trail
Robbins and Quinn on the PM's trail
Week one of the Labour election campaign, with BBC correspondents Carolyn Quinn and James Robbins

Carolyn Quinn's diary, Thursday 17 May

"Have you got your body armour on, Prime Minister?" yelled a woman in the crowd. "Don't know if I need it yet," replied Tony Blair as he made his way inside a specialist sports college in Loughborough yesterday.

Boxing is not included in the curriculum here, and Mr Blair was treated to a basketball display.

There was little mistaking the shock and fury of that moment with John Prescott, but how would it go down with the Blair team?

Carolyn Quinn

But as he watched the students going through their paces it was John Prescott's left jab in Rhyl that kept going through our minds - repeating like the TV footage replayed a thousand times.

There was little mistaking the shock and fury of that moment with John Prescott, but how would it go down with the Blair team?

After all, it did knock the schedule off course. And would the Prime Minister's security be stepped up as a result?

As Mr Blair made his way along the line of Loughborough youngsters, some of them primed with well-rehearsed questions, spokesman Alistair Campbell was in a huddle with journalists.

John Prescott, he said, was a hardworking, loyal deputy - and he is staying where he is.

As for the Prime Minister's security provision, there would be no change.

Whatever the outcome of the fracas in Rhyl, Prescott's punch has shown that even the most stage-managed campaign can suffer its glitches.

Carolyn Quinn's diary, Tuesday 15 May

It's happened. The prime minister has spoken to a real person - Frieda Darcy to be precise, the owner of the Happy Haddock fish shop in Brighouse in West Yorkshire.

Tony Blair
Blair did meet some "real people" on Tuesday
This use of the phrase "real people" has provoked, how should we say it, polite debate, between us journalists trailing Mr Blair up and down the country and the Labour party team accompanying him.

They've spent the last week denying that everything the PM does is designed to avoid any random contact with real people, that the events are stage-managed, safe, designed to prevent any chance encounter of the awkward squad.

Yesterday, on his plane, we asked Mr Blair why he wasn't doing more walkabouts. He insisted he had met real people during the question and answer sessions and the hospital and business visits he'd taken part in.

Nevertheless, something had definitely changed today.

Turning point

One Labour source told us that Mr Blair had taken our concerns on board, and before we knew it, there was the prime minister stepping into the melee in Brighouse.

The photographers succeeded in placing Mr Blair next to the recruit wearing the Number 10 red jersey.

Carolyn Quinn
OK, he only left his bus for four and a half minutes, and he avoided any contact with a Conservative party contingent with placards nearby. But it was a start, and a bit of a turning point in this campaign.

Earlier, though, it was a typical campaign day for Mr Blair. His plane landed at Manchester airport.

He officially opened a runway, which had already had several thousand planes taking off and landing on it.

Then at the gym at the Greater Manchester police training school, the journalists were confined to a pen, while the PM was fitted to a microphone while his words were piped back to us via headphones.

He chatted to several energetic police recruits, who had just completed 27 second laps of the gym. Mr Blair admitted that running had never been his thing. He preferred weight training and tennis.

Then a pose for the photographers, who placed Mr Blair next to the recruit in the number 10 red jersey.

On policy matters, the PM has been ramming home his key message, that Labour has established economic stability, has proved its competence and identified the key economic challenges of the future.

Blair was strategically positioned next to the player in the No. 10 jersey
Blair was strategically positioned next to the player in the No. 10 jersey
In a speech to business leaders in Leeds, Mr Blair stressed that the public no longer has to choose between a party that cares about business and a party that cares about society.

And of course he had a swipe at the Tories, challenging Mr Hague to clarify his tax position.

There will be more speeches like this, described as the "spine" of the campaign.

But first, tomorrow, the Labour manifesto is expected - Tony Blair's ambition for Britain.

Our correspondents report from the battle buses

Following Blair

Following Hague

Following Kennedy

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