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A-Z of British election issues

By CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley

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Robin Oakley
UK election

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A is for Advertising, which at election times more than ever reminds us of George Orwell's definition of the trade: "The rattling of sticks in swill buckets."

B is for Black holes, which all the parties insist are what the others' economic policies would fall into because the tax plans they admit to won't cover the spending they have promised.

C is for Controversy. Nearest thing to that so far has been the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair backing the Labour government's plans for identity cards when he is supposed to stay above the political fray. And no, he's not related to the Prime Minister. ;.

D is for Decapitation strategy. Top Tories are not only fighting to give their party renewed credibility in the election result, some are fighting too for personal survival. The Lib Dems are targeting Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin in Dorset West, (majority only 1,414), Shadow Home Secretary David Davis (1,903), Shadow Education Secretary Tim Collins (3,147) and Shadow Family Secretary Theresa May (3,284).

E is for Europe, the subject nobody except the United Kingdom Independence Party seems prepared to mention at this election. The Tories don't want to stimulate interest in UKIP, who could pinch their Euro-skeptic voters. Labour know Tory Euro-skepticism is more popular than their Euro policies and the pro-EU Lib Dems don't want to remind people they are in seats they hope to grab from dissident Tories.

F is for Howard Flight, the Tory deputy chairman sacked and thrown out of his Parliamentary seat for suggesting that the Tories planned to cut more taxes and make more spending cuts than they were saying.

G is for the Green Party who have two seats in the European Parliament under a different voting system but have never yet won one at the Westminster Parliament. They promise to limit the working week to 48 hours.

H is for Hard-working families, a phrase regularly used by both Tony Blair and Conservative Leader to identify the target of their policies. So who's going to look after the lazier ones? Mining MP Bill Stones, aware he was no candidate for Mensa, used to insist that he was needed in Parliament "because there's an awful lot of bleeding idiots out there and they deserve some representation too."

I is for Immigration, so far the biggest focus of Michael Howard's campaign, with more restrictive policies. Some Tories are worried this is bringing alienated Labour supporters back to vote for Tony Blair.

J is for Job applications, the most obvious one yet being former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's article arguing that power can already be seen moving away from Tony Blair and towards his likely successor Gordon Brown.

K is for Neil Kinnock, Labour's former leader who fought an eye-catching campaign in 1987 and still lost by a hefty margin. After watching their leader win the phoney war before the election was called only for the poll gap to re-open Tories are hoping Michael Howard is not their Neil Kinnock.

L is for Legacy. Tony Blair -- "at our best when at our boldest" -- wants his political legacy to be a well-funded but totally reformed system of public services offering wider choice. Gordon Brown -- "at our best when we are Labour" -- has different ideas but is campaigning enthusiastically beside him. Legacy and hoped-for inheritance have coalesced.

M is for Manifesto. The Tories' mere 38 pages had no picture of Howard on the cover. Labour's little red book ran to 110 pages with one inside photo of Tony Blair. The Liberal Democrats spread themselves over 20 tabloid sized newspaper pages (recycled paper because they are after the Green vote )and included 11 pictures of Charles Kennedy.

N is for New Labour. Gordon Brown is getting used to using the words, even if he grimaces like someone who has swallowed a witchety grub as he pronounces them.

O is for Opinion polls which have so far given us everything from a one-point Tory lead to a 10-point Labour one. The election is not only Labour vs Tory vs Lib Dem but old-style polling vs Internet polling.

P is for Postal votes and also, it seems, for potential scandal. The Electoral Commissioner in one recent fraud trial insisted the system was wide open for corruption. Expect plenty of cries of foul after the results this time and good business for lawyers.

Q is for questions. The politicians in this election are keener on taking them from members of the public than from journalists.

R is for the Referendum, on the European Union constitution, scheduled for 2006, which has given major parties an excuse for not debating Europe in this election. Are the French, who hold their referendum on May 29, going to save the next British prime minister the trouble?

S is for Spin Doctors. Tony Blair has brought back Alastair Campbell, his long-time communications chief. Wanting a familiar comfort blanket or in need of a rottweiler?

T is for Turnout which at only 59 per cent in 2001 was the lowest since 1918. Fearing a repeat, most parties have been concentrating on getting out their own core supporters rather than trying to entice floating voters.

U is for UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, who have failed to capitalize on the publicity boost provided by their 16 per cent share of the vote at the European Parliament elections last June. Only 3 per cent of voters say Europe is the key issue.

V is for Voting system. Under the present boundary distribution the Tories are penalized by stacking up votes in big southern constituencies. If they get another election drubbing will Tory voices be raised in favor of proportional representation?

W is for Women, said to be much harder to woo for Labour at this election. The Iraq war won't have helped. Women voters are traditionally more pacifist in their approach.

X is for the black mark on the ballot paper and for the mark against Home Secretary Charles Clarke's name when his mobile phone went off while Blair was speaking at Labour's manifesto launch.

Y is for the Youth vote. Everybody talks about winning it. Few have any clue how to do so and all are pessimistic about many young voters bothering to get to polling booths.

Z is for Zizz. We'll all need a good lie down when this is over.


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