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Friday, 1 June, 2001, 19:02 GMT 20:02 UK
Travelling with the Tories
On the buses correspondents with the Tory battlebus
The election trail is now in its third week, and as William Hague continues to preach the Tory message throughout the country , Laura Trevelyan and Tim Hirsch are still following close behind.


Tim Hirsch's diary, Friday 1 June

One of the most excruciating bits of election choreography on the Tory tour comes in the build-up to the evening rallies Mr Hague holds two or three times a week during the campaign.

After the audience is stirred by the strains of "Heartland", the Conservative campaign theme, a member of the shadow cabinet plays the role of warm-up act to the leader.


At the time the speech was due to start, Tory organisers began to look panicky as the room was still half empty - it emerged that it coincided with the time for prayers

Tim Hirsch
Tonight in Bradford it fell to defence spokesman Iain Duncan-Smith to call up to the stage all the Tory candidates from the region to wave and smile at the audience, in a parade which reminded one colleague of Eddie Wareing's introduction to the teams of "It's a Knockout".

It's a bit of American-style razzmatazz which unfortunately still appears terribly embarrassing when it happens here.

Earlier Mr Hague spoke to members of the city's Muslim community to reassure them about his belief in "One Nation" in which people of all races and religions were as British as each other.

At the time the speech was due to start, Tory organisers began to look panicky as the room was still half empty - it emerged that it coincided with the time for prayers.

When he did begin, the Tory leader delighted his audience by opening with the Arabic words "Assalamu alaikum" - a Muslim greeting meaning "May peace be with you".

And he went on to say that he hoped Britain's first Muslim prime minister would be a Conservative - though he added "not quite yet" - presumably just in case anyone in the room was considering a leadership challenge.


Tim Hirsch's diary, Thursday 31 May

Waiting for William Hague to arrive in the English Riviera sunshine, it seemed as if his every step was being stalked by the Ghost of Tory Past.

The café just across the road from the seafront at Torquay turned out to be called Maggi & Co, and just in front of Mr Hague's battlebus as it pulled in was a lorry carrying Thatcher's Traditional Cider.

But the Tory leader was in good spirits as he arrived for one of the most relaxed walkabouts of the campaign so far, the waterfront packed with bussed-in supporters and curious Torquay holidaymakers, mostly giving Mr Hague and Ffion a warm welcome.


Not only did Mr Hague know who had won the Popstars programme, and also correctly identify the current number one in the charts, he also knew what a Muggle was (a non-wizard in Harry Potter books)

Tim Hirsch
In this constituency, Torbay, one walkabout could just make the difference. The Liberal Democrats captured the seat from the Conservatives by just 12 votes in 1997, so every hand shaken and smile from Ffion was potentially crucial for the result here in a week's time.

By the time the Hagues reached their next campaign stop at Weston-super-Mare, the talk among the press corps was not health policy, the Euro, or even the strike of the donkey drivers on Weston beach.

Everyone was talking about William Hague's striking success in showing his knowledge of youth culture, during an interview on his jet earlier in the day with children from the BBC Newsround programme.

Baroness Thatcher
There were unwelcome reminders of Thatcher in Torbay
Not only did Mr Hague know who had won the Popstars programme - Ffion was a big fan, he said - and also correctly identify the current number one in the charts, he also knew what a Muggle was (a non-wizard in Harry Potter books) and immediately gave the right answer to "Pokemon or Microstar?" (Microstar of course)

Crucially for the story, Tony Blair had flunked this quiz when asked the same questions, although there were dark mutterings from Millbank that Mr Hague had been pre-briefed, hotly denied by the Central Office minders.

Whatever the truth of this, it doesn't much matter for Mr Hague as far as this election is concerned, as Newsround viewers won't be going to the polling booths for another five years or so - and by then, they'll probably have forgotten what a muggle is anyway.


Tim Hirsch's diary, Wednesday 30 May

It wasn't William Hague's best morning.

After waking up to headlines talking of "meltdown" for the Tories according to the latest opinion poll, and confusion over his "last chance to save the Pound" routine, Mr Hague found himself in a car park outside Glasgow in the pouring rain, launching another poster.

Facing him was a phalanx of hungry journalists shouting for his reaction to the various bits of gloom on today's news agenda.


Mr Hague's afternoon stop was, appropriately enough, near the site of William Wallace's victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This election, according to the Tory leader, is very much the Battle for Sterling

Tim Hirsch
But Mr Hague was his usual cheerful self, and from under a "Save the Pound" umbrella, he fielded the questions and managed to laugh off the latest Labour poster superimposing his face on Lady Thatcher's head. "I wish I had that much hair, but I'm not too keen on the earrings," he said.

As for the Tory poster, it read "Labour will hit you hard", and showed a bloodied fist with knuckle-dusters bearing the word "Tax".

It wasn't clear whether the photograph used a hand-double for John Prescott, but the implication was there.

Mr Hague's afternoon stop was at a rugby club in Stirling - appropriately enough, near the site of William Wallace's victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This election, according to the Tory leader, is very much the Battle for Sterling.

The speech at Stirling coincided with a schools rugby tournament, and Mr Hague used the opportunity for the sort of photo-stunt he is starting to take part in, having avoided them until the last few days.


Hague said he wanted hair like Thatcher, but maybe not the earrings
This gave him a chance to have a bit of revenge on the press pack following him around the campaign. As the photographers set up a picture of Mr Hague and Ffion standing amongst the kids on the rugby field, the players let loose a barrage of balls straight at the cameras, scattering snappers and journalists alike.

The Hagues kept the balls they were holding resolutely in their hands. The last thing their campaign needed was a picture of the Tory leader inadvertently injuring a child with a badly-judged throw.


Tim Hirsch's diary, Tuesday 29 May

The market-place in Kingston-upon-Thames seemed tailor-made for the latest "Keep the Pound" speech by William Hague.

A golden statue of Queen Victoria looks down on fruit and vegetable stalls where the prices in pounds and ounces are much more prominent than the obligatory metric equivalents.

But Mr Hague chose not to make a virtue of this, and steered well clear of any fresh produce - probably a wise decision as one stall-holder said he had some rotten tomatoes at the back, which he might be tempted to use if the Tory leader got too close.

This is the type of outer London suburb which used to be solid Conservative territory, but fell to the Liberal Democrats by a wafer-thin majority of just 56 in 1997, with Labour not far behind the Tories. If he does not regain Kingston, Mr Hague really is in trouble.


Where Lady Thatcher said rather too much about the Euro, Mr Major did not mention it at all

Tim Hirsch
He did get celebrity endorsement here, with the songwriter Tim Rice introducing his speech in front of the "Keep the Pound" lorry.

"I am thinking of writing a new musical about Tony Blair," Sir Tim said. "It will be called the Liar King."

John Major's support

Another endorsement came later in the day at a rally in Brighton, where John Major became the second former Conservative prime minister to join the campaign.

He was bound to be better behaved than his predecessor Lady Thatcher last week, who couldn't resist stirring things up over Europe.

But where Lady Thatcher said rather too much about the Euro, Mr Major did not mention it at all - a slightly odd omission when Mr Hague keeps telling us that it's the most important thing to be decided at this election.

Of course Mr Major's entire leadership of the party was plagued by Tory divisions over Europe, so his silence on the matter was perhaps not that surprising - especially in Brighton.

John Major
John Major gave Hague his support
For it was here that in 1992, just a few yards down the seafront from the hotel venue where today's rally took place, that the Conservative party conference descended into virtual civil war over Europe, crippling the rest of John Major's premiership.

So Mr Major avoided the "E" word altogether, choosing instead to launch a blistering attack on the spin culture of Mr Blair's government.

He warned that the British people were in danger of "sleepwalking into catastrophe", and said that the Tories had to wake them up over the next nine days.

He used very similar words in 1997, warning of the dangers of allowing Labour to carry through its devolution plans in Scotland and Wales and the threat they would pose to the United Kingdom.

The Tories will be hoping Mr Major's Cassandra-like cry will get a better response this time around.


Tim Hirsch's diary, Monday 28 May

It may be Bank Holiday Monday, but there's no rest for the Tory campaign team - after all, as William Hague keeps reminding us, there are only ten days to save the Pound.

The choice of towns for today's campaign stops were appropriate for a Bank Holiday - Blackpool and Llandudno.

Not that you would have known it from the television pictures, however - this campaign seems designed to make everywhere look like everywhere else.


Once again Ffion attracted at least as much attention as her husband. I actually overheard one man saying "She shook my hand twice - won't be washing that for a week!"

Tim Hirsch
As we pulled into a damp and drizzly Blackpool, the opportunities for lively pictures of William and Ffion Hague seemed endless - walking along the pier, getting on a tram, perhaps even popping into Gypsy Rose's fortune-telling booth (that might be asking a bit much).

But no - once again we found ourselves inside a hotel watching Mr Hague speak to an invited audience, the only clue to our location being the blue backdrop which read "Common Sense for Blackpool".

By the time the circus got to the North Wales resort of Llandudno, the sun was shining brightly and a colourful scene greeted the Hagues.

The long curved promenade with its beautiful sweep of Victorian hotels was packed with a combination of Tory supporters and bewildered holidaymakers.

Save the Pound lorry
A familiar sight on the Tory campaign trail
But the viewer would have been none the wiser, as the soap-box from which he spoke was placed in front of the big white "Keep the Pound" lorry which blocked out everything else. So as far as the cameras were concerned, he could just as well have been in a car park in Surbiton.

The Hagues did get to meet a few Welsh well-wishers as they walked the short distance back to their car, and once again Ffion attracted at least as much attention as her husband. I actually overheard one man saying "She shook my hand twice - won't be washing that for a week!"

Ffion has been notoriously silent during the campaign, but she was happy to reply to a lady who came up to her to wish her luck in her native Welsh language. "Diolch yn fawr iawn," (thank you very much) replied Ffion in one of her longer speeches.

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