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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 17:52 GMT 18:52 UK
Life on the Tory election trail: Week 1
The Hagues
The Hagues on their campaign bus
By campaign correspondent Tim Hirsch

For a man who would need an unprecedented political earthquake to win this election, William Hague seems remarkably relaxed about the whole thing.

Tearing around the country by helicopter, jet and bus, he seems to genuinely enjoy the gruelling process.

He even seems to like the chaotic town centre walkabouts in which he and Ffion are barely able to move through the scrum of cameras, security guards and party workers armed with their fragile blue rope, attempting to keep some sort of order.

Whether Ffion enjoys it so much is far from clear - whenever asked she insists she is, but that winning smile of hers appears to be getting more and more fixed.


Barnstorming stuff, he's so much better than he seems on TV - and much better looking

Tory voter, on Hague
The Tories feel that they're having a good campaign so far, despite the fact that there is absolutely no sign of movement in that huge Labour lead in the opinion polls.

Setting the agenda

What pleases them is that the issues they have chosen have by and large set the agenda - and on the one day when Labour was guaranteed top billing with its manifesto launch, it was John Prescott's left hook and Sharon Storer's savaging of the prime minister which stole the show.

The one occasion on which Mr Hague showed signs of losing his cool this week was when he faced persistent questioning in Cardiff over the confusion about the size of Tory tax-cutting plans.

After saying "the figure is 8 billion" half a dozen times, he seemed to suffer a sense of humour failure when asked about the claim of his own father that it would take a miracle for the Tories to win.

"I think we will leave my family out of this election - next question?" he replied tetchily.

Generally, the main problem facing Mr Hague's tour so far has been making sure that he and the media are in the same place at the same time.

Travel traumas

The complex logistics of bussing and flying the press pack to his campaign stops, so they are there in time to see him, have broken down twice.

On Tuesday, the journalists following him were stuck in the lounge at Leeds-Bradford airport for the afternoon while he campaigned in Yorkshire - appropriately enough in The Shambles at Wetherby.

The Tory bus
The Tory bus has lost the press on two occasions
Then the next day, the press coach pulled into Wolverhampton town centre just as Mr Hague's battlebus was pulling out - though as it happened, he had a particularly rough ride from anti-Tory demonstrators there, so party organisers didn't seem too sorry that most of the press had missed it.

Whatever impression Mr Hague is making on the voters at large, he does seem able in his whistle-stop tours to enthuse the Tory faithful - an important function for a party so totally demoralised by its crushing defeat in 1997.

He is in his element on the stump or in a town hall, surrounded by local Tories cheering every mention of "We will save the Pound, Labour will bounce us into the euro," or "Britain should be a safe haven, not a soft touch".

"Barnstorming stuff, he's so much better than he seems on TV - and much better looking," one middle-aged Tory lady said to me after one of these energetic soap-box orations.

So morale in the Conservative camp seems pretty high at the end of this week, whatever the opinion polls may say. There are no illusions about the scale of the task over the next three weeks, but they feel things are going about as well as could be expected.

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