ELECTION 2001: PRWeek's panel of experts give their view on their rival parties' campaigning abilities so far

CHARLES LEWINGTON ... former Tory director of communications



'Charles Kennedy says a test of the credibility of his party will be

whether the Liberal Democrats top the 17 per cent share of the vote the

party secured in 1997. On the basis of the campaign so far, he will

struggle to pass that test.



'Throughout the last Parliament, Kennedy failed to capitalise on

Labour's failure to deliver on public services as Blair continued to

hold out the (totally fictitious) Third Way promise of cabinet posts and

electoral reform.



'Instead of going into the election as a party leader who will spend

more and deliver more on better public services, Kennedy is a party

leader who will tax more but offer no more significant improvements to

schools and hospitals than Labour - not saying much.



'Kennedy comes across on TV as genial (which he is) and ineffectual

(which he is not). Reading the brown bear story to school children and

wandering through the Eden Project with his girlfriend were soft, and

seemingly un-stage-managed events. But other than the fact that a vote

for the Lib Dems is either wasted or might cost you money, does anyone

know what they stand for? Their tactics look like going down under that

familiar heading: Opportunity missed.'



VERDICT: Kennedy has not capitalised on Labour's public services

failure



STEVE MORGAN ... former Al Gore campaigner



'The muddle over the Tories' tax-cutting policy, which looked to be the

main gaffe of their campaign, was surpassed by their inability to

respond to the 'Prescott punch'. Trying to make political gain out of a

violent attack on one of your opponents is always a dangerous judgement,

but for a few moments I thought Hague had pulled it off.



''I'm not in the habit of hitting the voters,' was the perfect reply to

the question of how he would have responded. Hague couldn't resist

putting the boot into an opponent who looked down and out. His comments

that this is what happens when Labour is faced with meeting real people

was a big mistake. Trying to associate Prescott's attacker with

'ordinary voters' did not go down well, especially when it became clear

that the majority of the public were on Prescott's side.'



VERDICT: Trying to gain from violence against your opponent is

dangerous



JEREMY BROWNE ... former Lib Dem director of press and broadcasting



'Everyone regards Labour's lead as part of the political landscape, but

it's remarkable to have maintained it during the campaign. It's based on

both the personal appeal of Blair, which reassures those uneasy with

traditional Labour, and on the strength of the economy, with growth, low

unemployment, low inflation and low interest rates.



'Aside from this, Labour's campaign has been woeful. A seam of neurotic

incompetence runs through Millbank, whose greatest PR triumph has been

the successful misrepresentation of its own ability.



'Labour's campaign has been defensive, overly stage-managed, fearful of

the public, visibly spun and uninspiring.



'The party can be thankful the Tories remain so unattractive. But if

they win again, they will embark on a second term with only lukewarm

support and the need for a communications overhaul.'



VERDICT: Millbank's PR triumph is the misrepresentation of its own

ability



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