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Saturday, 26 May, 2001, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Life on the Lib Dem battlebus: Week 2
Charles Kennedy
Kennedy leaving one of many campaign stops
By campaign correspondent Peter Hunt

From the vantage point of a first floor room he could just about be seen.

Red hair has its uses. Charles Kennedy, surrounded by TV cameras and photographers, made his way - slowly, very slowly in fact - through Chesterfield market.

"Let me through. I'm a pensioner and I haven't got any eggs," shouted an elderly man. Voters have to be very resourceful these days if they want to engage face to face with a politician.

Walkabouts, like this one in Derbyshire, can look good on television - the all important medium in this election campaign. They give the impression of direct contact with the voters.

But its actually very difficult for any meaningful conversations to take place.

Half way through this campaign, the Lib Dems believe they're doing well. Their leader has buzzed around the UK like a demented fly

Peter Hunt
The scrum of reporters and cameras in front of Mr Kennedy first have to be breached. And even when a Chesterfield resident manages to get through, there's the time pressure.

An aide is on hand, by Mr. Kennedy's side, tapping him on the back, moving him on so he doesn't get bogged down in too long a conversation.

Controlled visits

After such a walkabout - he's only really done two so far - Charles Kennedy always gets on the battlebus/plane energised after his encounter with the British public.

Other visits tend to be to more controlled environments - in schools, hospitals and factories. He's canvassed lots of 5 to 11 year olds. They can't vote, but they are the unwitting backdrop for his party's policy on education.

Half way through this campaign, the Liberal Democrats believe they're doing well. Their leader has buzzed around the UK like a demented fly.

Charles Kennedy with primary school children
Children are a frequent backdrop for the campaign
Guildford, Cornwall, Cardiff, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oldham, Southampton, Norfolk, Bristol, Chesterfield, Harrogate, Inverness - all in a week.

Hours in the sky or on the bus. Precious minutes on the ground with the electorate. Constantly trying to beat the clock. A sort of political Olympics. And to what end? In the flesh, he's met perhaps a hundred or so people face to face.

Using the airwaves

But through the medium of regional television, radio and newspapers, his message has been conveyed, unadulterated, to many, many more.

And that's the key to this campaign. A party with limited funding is using the airwaves of Britain to promote their man and their policies.

This is a crucial election for Mr Kennedy. He's had his critics. He's been called "Laidback Charlie", "Chatshow Charlie", "Inaction Man", compared with the "Action Man" style of his predecessor, Sir Paddy Ashdown.

To silence these critics, he has to hold onto the 47 seats he's inherited and ideally add a few more. It's a case of building on his legacy or squandering it.

On June 8th, he'll know whether all his dashing around was worth it.


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21 May 01 |  Vote2001
Life on the Lib Dem bus: Week one