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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 00:11 GMT 01:11 UK

The long road to the vote

By BBC Scotland's David Allison

The long haul is finally over for the hundreds of candidates who have travelled many thousands of miles in the quest for votes.

The four-week election campaign has become a tradition in Britain and one which the voters and the politicians have become accustomed to.

What has perhaps stood out about this campaign has been the unique build-up to it, with a May poll date ruled out because of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

But why a four-week campaign? It was not always like this.

When the Conservative prime minister Stanley Baldwin appealed for votes in the 1929 general election there were no planes, helicopters and battlebuses. Not to mention wall-to-wall coverage on television, radio and the internet.

Despite the limitations of transport and technology in those days, three weeks was deemed adequate to cover the whole country.

Today the dilemma is no longer about getting about, but more about where to go and how often.

" We are dealing with democracy and the people are ruling, not the politicians "
Owen Dudley Edwards

One party worker, who has spent the campaign travelling on a battlebus, said a fair amount of effort was put into keeping the media guessing.

She said: "We have no idea half of the time where we are going. Usually about 10 or 15 minutes before we arrive somewhere, they hand out a sheet which says 'you will soon be arriving in Rugby, Enfield, Gillingham or wherever, subject to delay'.

"The bubble stays exactly the same wherever we are. It is a very tiring and long day and I won't be sad to see the back of that."

So, in a way, election campaigns have become a war of attrition, a marathon to test stamina, a poker game where someone is inevitably going to have to blink first.

Ample opportunity

Therefore, should and could the campaign be shortened?

"Absolutely not," said Owen Dudley Edwards of Edinburgh University's Department of History.

He said there should be plenty of time made available, giving the public ample opportunity to scrutinise the people seeking their votes and question them.

He said: "Politicians get a sense of being some sort of olympian superior beings, it is right that they should have a periodic humiliation.

"That they have to come back to earth, what they have to remember is who put them there.

"Sometimes they are going to have to answer questions - and sometimes rude gestures - from the people in the street.

"We are dealing with democracy and the people are ruling, not the politicians."

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