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Friday, 1 June, 2001, 22:11 GMT 23:11 UK
Andrew Marr's Campaign: Week 4
BBC Political editor Andrew Marr
By BBC News political editor Andrew Marr

With less than a week to polling day, there are the first slight signs of the Tories beginning to close the gap.

It is not enough for anyone to predict the biggest upset since democratic politics got going.

But it is enough to make some Labour strategists uneasy and to confirm a Conservative instinct that things have not been as bad for them as the pollsters say.

"It's wrong. It isn't like the polls...".

Wherever I have been or whenever I have called different local campaigns, Tory activists are keen to grab journalists by the lapels and insist they know something we in London don't.

Race

"I know you think I'm only saying this because I'm a Conservative. But..." If I have heard that once, I've heard it several dozen times.

This may be mass hallucination, or whistling in the dark.

It may be that millions of people are avoiding the probing questions of outsiders working for polling companies.

Or it may be that some of the country has kept its counsel and left the final decision to very late in the campaign.

Lord Coe, the former Olympic runner, likens it to the mile race.

Several elections

There is a huge difference between the first three laps and the last one.

"You listen for the bell and you put everything in."

In this campaign, the bell has gone.

Sebastian Coe
The final lap?
My theory, and it is only that, is that Britain is not having a general election.

We are having a number of different elections which happen to end on the same day.

There are big differences between the regions.

Regional differences

In the English south-west, the Euro and indeed the EU seem to feature more among swing voters than they do in, say, the south east.

Kent and parts of the south coast are reporting an election dominated by asylum - but that barely features at all in the Midlands.

Scotland, meanwhile, is having an election campaign all of its own.

Up to a point, these regional differences have always been present.

The Liberals were always strong, but fought different foes, in Cornwall and in the Pennines.

Bombarded

But the differences seem greater this time, partly because of devolution in Scotland and Wales, partly because of the local strength of the UK Independence Party, and specific local issues.

Meanwhile, the politically interested are having a different election campaign from the millions who are disengaged.

The former are the people using the internet, bombarding the BBC News Online leader interviews with questions; calling the myriad phone-ins where politicians sit and wait; tuning into the endless round of broadcast interviews; reading the detailed coverage of the broadsheets.

If you want to know this election is better than any before it - detailed speeches and policies on the web, 24-hour news services, the lot.

Unpredictable

Political obsessives, in other words, are having a great time - they are more empowered than ever.

My theory, then, is that the "spottiness" of the election, the different forms it is taking, may explain the confusion expressed by party headquarters about who is really listening and who will really vote.

There is less sense of a single national community, engaged in a single national election campaign, than I can remember before.

If this is so, we will get unpredicted local results and different swings in different areas.

Opposition

We will also get, of course, more extra-parliamentary protest, by doctors, truckers, NHS workers and others, if at the end of all this Labour does produce the much talked-of second landslide.

In any open liberal society, such as this one, there is never "no opposition" to government.

The question is, what form does that opposition take? If it is not strong and challenging in parliament, it will emerge somewhere else.

There is more at stake on Thursday than whether the man in No 10 has a full head of hair.

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