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Monday, 21 May, 2001, 17:33 GMT

The Campaign Today with Nick Robinson

It's week three of the campaign, and Nick Robinson is still hunting for the issues. Join him as he writes his election logbook throughout the day.

Last updated at 6.30pm
Click here for latest update

Subject: Tories and business
Sent: 8am

Off we go again. The Tories are producing a business manifesto this morning. Parties used to do that when no-one thought they had any support from business. That's why Labour used to produce such things as long lists of names of businessmen who were in favour.

In the old days, of course, the Tories couldn't produce a list of businessmen in favour because it WAS "the business community". So it looks perhaps a little defensive that they have to do it now. Really oughtn't they be providing a list of doctors, nurses, teachers who are in favour of them? That surely would be the mirror of what Labour used to do.

Subject: Voters in charge
Sent: 9am

This morning the voters take charge again. It's going to be fun to see. I doubt if we'll get anything of quite the scale of Sharron Storer or indeed That Punch. But with Tony Blair on the Nicky Campbell programme, Election Call starting on Radio 4 and News Online, this is the chance for voters to push them on questions that we hacks have so far failed to push home.

Subject: If only I'd thought!
Sent: 11am

At last. William Hague has appeared at a Westminster news conference. Alongside him - the shadow chancellor, the shadow financial secretary but, hang on a minute, where was the Shadow Chief Secretary, Oliver Letwin? The Tories have hung him out to dry.

Yes, they accept he was the source behind the FT's story that the Tories planned to cut taxes by 20 billion but, no, they do not have any such plans. So, are they saying Letwin's a fool who didn't understand the plans he's drawn up and would implement in government, or a liar?

Great question. Shame I didn't ask it this morning. News conferences can be like real-life encounters - you only think what you should have said when it's too late!

The Tories have learnt how to answer difficult questions from Labour's handling of the Euro. Agree on a formula, stick to it in all circumstances whatever the question because it may only be a part of the truth but it'd much much less damaging than spelling out what your real thinking is.

Subject: Flat of foot
Sent: 11.45am

Uncharacteristically, Labour look flat footed on tax - unable to explain why they CAN give a pledge on income tax rates but not on national insurance which is, after all, just another tax on income.

This matters as Labour have form on this and still shudder at the memory of John Smith's pledge in 1992 to scrap the ceiling on national insurance contributions altogether - a promise, in effect, to hike the taxes of the aspirant voters of Middle Britain who they've so successfully recruited in recent years.

As the politicians like to say "the choice in this election is now clear". It is stealth spending cuts versus stealth tax rises.


Subject: They're a bit unhappy
Sent: 3.41pm

Labour are unhappy at the detailed focus on what they're not saying about National Insurance. What they dislike most is on-screen graphics spelling out what any such change could cost voters, as they think it makes the tax changes real.

But it's hard to see how they can stop this happening with a policy of simply refusing to say what their approach is.

Subject: Wot no school choir?
Sent: 5.55pm

There's been much talk on Tony Blair's election style. Today he did something really surprising - a long low key speech with no razzamatazz. It was on his plans for the public services. The prime minister's determined that if he wins again, no-one can say he hasn't got a mandate. So, if you want to know what he'll do in a second term then ignore the rallies, the photo-opportunities and the evasive answers and read those speeches. You still won't have the whole picture but you'll have a much better idea than most!

His party though can't resist stunts. Alistair Darling was given a blue "Tory boom & bust" budget box this morning as he delivered what was labelled the real Shadow Budget.

Later on, those who aspire to be the Tony Blairs and Gordon Browns of the future paraded in front of Tory Central Office carrying placards and screaming "Let Letwin Speak". One day one of THEM might be prime minister. God help us!

Subject: Taxes rank?
Sent: 6.30pm

It's fascinating for those of us who are Thatcher's children to witness the battle on tax. This was a model day for the Tories - they've identified a tax which hurts a key group of voters (those earning around 30,000 per year) and scares all those who aspire to earn that much.

And they've driven Labour into a corner where the risks of spelling out their plans are as high as refusing to do so. Yet Labour seem relatively unflustered and determined not to be moved. So who's right?

  • The Tories - who believe that the old magic will work and that voters will always put their pocket before anything else.
  • Labour who insist voters trust them to get the balance right between tax and investment?
  • Or the Liberal Democrats who say the public aren't daft and know there can be no public gain without a little private pain? We'll know soon enough!
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