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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 18:10 GMT 19:10 UK

Andrew Marr's Campaign: Week 3

By BBC News political editor Andrew Marr

An American film critic has objected to the upbeat conclusion of the new Disney war film Pearl Harbor.

He says it's so upbeat, it's as if they did a remake of Titanic where Kate Winslett ended up killing the iceberg.


" In a fortnight, we will be making a choice which affects the country's position in the world "
Half-way through the general election campaign, there are comparisons to be made.

If you believe the polls - and he doesn't - William Hague is heading towards a ducking. He has to kill that iceberg.

He is gutsy, determined and cheerful. But the public seem to be about as bothered as the penguins.

Conservative hopes for a turnaround rest on the view that what the pollsters are picking up as apathy is rather more complicated than that.

Polar mirage

Maybe Tory voters are staying quiet, waiting for their moment, reluctant to admit their preference to outsiders.

Maybe what New Labour reads as indifference is the eye-contact-avoiding, subtle messages of dislike that Tory canvassers got in the 1990s.

Maybe the 'iceberg' is media mist, a pollsters' polar mirage.

Maybe. But inside the Labour and Liberal Democrat campaigns there is a hardening belief that the polls are broadly right and that the Tories have failed to shift a settled prejudice against them.

Why, then, is the prime minister so visibly edgy and frustrated? He's way ahead in the polls, but he does not seem to be enjoying himself anything like as much as either Mr Hague or the Liberal Democrats' Charles Kennedy.

The answer that emerged this week is that Tony Blair wants more than voters' taxes and another four or five years to prove his point.

Shake up

He intends to shake up the state education service, the health service and the courts system with tools the old Labour party thought awful - private managers, competition, selection, a less 'liberal' instinct.

He wants people to know this before they vote, and to be with him when he acts. He demands, in short, hearts and minds as much as pencil crosses.

And the less interest there is in the campaign, the less that happens, so the more trouble he will run into if he wins.

That trouble would only be compounded if the Liberal Democrats' widely-praised, low-razzmatazz election campaign produces good results.

They have positioned themselves as something very close to the public sector workers' party, offering more money all round and relatively little in the way of challenging reform for schools or hospitals.

Reform comes a long second for them, and this may be partly why they seem popular among once-Labour commentators and voters.

Where Labour and the Liberal Democrats are pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder is on Europe, which has at last broken out as a full-scale election issue.

Dramatic attack

Tony Blair's accusation on Friday that the Tories would be faced, in government, with a choice between a humiliating surrender over their demands for a renegotiation of EU treaties, or withdrawal, was his most dramatic attack on Mr Hague's European policy yet.

It mirrors the Tory charge, again put pungently and vividly by Mr Hague on Friday, that Labour plans an unfair, rigged and premature referendum to 'bounce' this country into the Euro if they win on June 7.


" Inside the Labour and Liberal Democrat campaigns there is a hardening belief that the polls are broadly right and that the Tories have failed to shift a settled prejudice against them "
That, of course, would be easier for the prime minister if the Conservatives were so badly beaten they were in disarray, and splintering - as the UK Independence Party hope - at the time.

Beyond the campaign details, one big and simple truth has emerged from this week's election argument.

In a fortnight, we will be making a choice which does affect the country's position in the world. Broadly speaking, a Tory victory would lead to a fundamental challenge to our involvement in Europe's 'ever-closer union'.

A Labour one would lead, one way or another, to deeper engagement, probably including a referendum on the euro.

The British may not be ready for such a fundamental choice. The message from this week's campaign on that can be summed up in just two words: too bad.



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