Election Watch 2005: Blair and Brown double act keeps all perplexed

The otherwise relentless election campaign was put on hold at the end of last week with the Pope's funeral, the Royal Wedding and the Grand National dominating the headlines.

But the launch of the Conservative Party manifesto - at 7.20am on Monday (a shock to the system of the political editors) - quickly brought the campaign back up to full steam.

The media have spent most of the week trying to work out how much the Tory proposals will actually cost, but also dissecting the increasingly complex relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, a debate heightened by a party political broadcast featuring the two men together.

The Brown camp appears to have convinced the media that he is now the leader-elect and the man true Labour voters really back. The Blair camp responded by fielding Alan Milburn on the Today programme on Wednesday, trying to shift the agenda back on to policies rather than personalities.

But it is Lib Dem's leader Charles Kennedy who has had the most eventful week, with the birth of his first child. Young Donald was quickly thrust into the media spotlight, a welcome break from the heavy tone of tax-and-spend debates.

However, one Lib Dem spin doctor was overheard sighing: 'If only Sarah Kennedy could have held on for another couple of weeks...'

Charlie Whelan, p20.

COLIN BYRNE

Hell hath no fury like the media scorned. Lots of self-righteous snorting about Labour keeping the hacks at a safe distance (the Tories too, though given Michael Howard's shaky and fractious manifesto launch you can see why they are doing it).

Partly, the political journalists have themselves to blame. Labour's memories of hostile media distortion run deep and it is going over the heads of the press direct to voters via TV. After all, the election is for voters, not political writers.

With the Blair-Brown relationship now solidly back on track, the election is fairly and squarely about leadership, with the economy as backdrop.

Quite right. Blair and Brown are the most effective political partnership in post-war politics, and the more the voters see the big choice ahead of them, the better.

Colin Byrne is CEO, UK and Ireland for Weber Shandwick.

He formerly ran the Labour Party press office

OLLY GRENDER

It has been an eventful week for Charles and Sarah Kennedy. It's corny but has to be said, the Lib Dems have certainly delivered!

The Lib Dems have been confident for some time that people would be sympathetic to a first-time dad taking a couple of days off to spend time with his baby.

Menzies Campbell has stepped in to cover for Kennedy, part of a contingency plan which has been in place for months.

I was recently told by someone at tabloid editorial level that Campbell is easily recognised as one of the top three politicians in the UK. So the party is in safe hands. His launch on Tuesday highlighting Lib Dem tax plans contrasts sharply with the present coyness of the Tories.

But fear not, a party broadcast with Campbell and Kennedy gazing into each other's eyes is neither necessary nor planned!

Olly Grender, MBE, is a freelancer. She was formerly director of comms for the Liberal Democrats and aide to Paddy Ashdown

NICK WOOD

As Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief aide, put it: 'If turnout is 50 per cent, we lose. If it's 60 per cent we win.' Hence this week's spectacle of Blair and Gordon Brown's love-in on Labour's election broadcast.

Conservative supporters and floating voters will find the whole thing risible. You could fill a library with books and articles devoted to the Blair/Brown feud. But that misses the point.

The point is to firm up the soft Labour core vote, which much prefers dour Old Labour Gordon to grinning New Labour Tony.

The polls suggest the Labour vote is now hardening. But the Tories still hold the campaign edge. The Blair/Brown assault on tax and spending plans inflicted some flesh wounds, but nothing more. And Howard has more tax cuts up his sleeve.

Nick Wood is MD of Media Intelligence Partners. He was formerly media director for the Tories and chief political correspondent of The Times.

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