Friday, 24 April 1992


Tribune leader, 24 April 1992

It is now clear that we are not going to get a full choice in the Labour lead­ership election. The bounce has worked: the rapid endorsement of John Smith by several key union leaders persuaded all but two of his potential ri­vals for the leadership that he had it all sewn up and that it wasn't worth even trying to challenge him. One by one, all the younger politicians whose names had been mentioned as putative Labour leaders rallied publicly to his banner – Robin Cook, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown – leaving only Bryan Gould and Ken Livingstone to offer a challenge. With Mr Livingstone almost certain to be eliminated from the contest because of the absurd anti-democratic requirement that any would–be leader needs the nom­inations of 20 per cent of MPs to become a candidate in the election, that means that the choice is between Mr Smith and Mr Gould.

This is an unhappy state of affairs, not because there is anything wrong with ei­ther Mr Smith or Mr Gould – both are decent, honest men – but because, be­tween them, they do not adequately rep­resent the range of options available to Labour in the mid-nineties.

Mr Smith is the "business as usual" candidate (hardly surprising given that he was in charge of Labour's economic policy in the run-up to the 1992 elec­tion). Although he has promised to be open to ideas, and has given Mr Brown and Mr Blair special responsibility for developing them, he has yet to convince anyone that, under his leadership, Labour would adopt anything other than a "safety first" approach. In eco­nomic policy, the recipe is familiar: mod­est increases in public spending paid for by modest tax increases, with industrial intervention limited to "supply-side" measures and devaluation of sterling ruled out of order. A Smith Labour Par­ty would go with the flow on Europe, cautiously backing the EC's moves to­wards European Monetary Union but wary of being seen as too pro-European, and it would support the safest option on electoral reform, whatever that turns out to be after Labour's commission on electoral systems, chaired by Raymond Plant, reaches its conclusions. A similar­ly cautions approach would be taken to reforming Labour's internal structures. All in all, Mr Smith would be a very dull leader at a time when dullness is the last thing Labour needs more of.

Mr Gould, by contrast, is brimming over with ideas for change: he is in favour of industrial interventionism and devaluation and has been critical of Mr Smith's redistributive Shadow budget for its "insensitivity" to voters in the south-east of England. He is a decentraliser, sceptical about Europe, and a convinced environmentalist. He would move rapidly towards one member one vote as the basis for Labour's structure.

Looking on the bright side, we are be­ing offered a clear choice. Apart from taxation, where it is difficult to tell whether Mr Gould dislikes the Shadow budget tax increases or just the way they were put across, the differences be­tween the two candidates have been ad­mirably well defined. Nothing has hap­pened in the past week to change Tribune's belief that Mr Gould's decentralism, environmentalism and enthusiasm for reform of Labour’s structures make him the better bet for the leadership.

* * *
Moreover, if, as nearly everyone expects, he fails to beat Mr Smith, he would be a better choice for deputy than Margaret Beckett, who seems likely to be the other main candidate. Unlike Mr Gould, Mrs Beckett cannot these days credibly claim to be a left-wing balance to Mr Smith's right-wing pragmatism because of her central role in economic policy in the past few years. Her antipathy to electoral reform bodes ill for Labour if she becomes deputy to Mr Smith, as does her tendency to Euro–scepticism.

But here also lies the nub of the problem with the whole contest. For Mr Gould is as much of a Eurosceptic as Mrs Beckett. No one with a serious chance of becoming leader or deputy is saying that the fault with Labour's stance on Europe over the past couple of years has been lack of enthusiasm for Europe. The only credible way of sub­jecting to democratic control the key de­cisions in European economic policy-making is the development of a federal European executive accountable to the European Parliament. But, instead of willing the means, Labour has taken refuge in the idea that national Minis­ters drawn from national parliaments should have a little bit more of a role.

* * *

Similarly, no one with a serious chance of winning is saying both that the economic policy of the past couple of years has been over­cautious and that devaluation cannot be offered by Labour as a policy at the next election. Devaluation increases prices of imports and cuts prices of exports: as a result, it boosts the economy, at least un­til wage inflation cancels out its effects. It is sometimes necessary, and there is a strong case that now is such a time: ster­ling is undoubtedly over-valued against the Deutschmark, as are several other European currencies. But devaluation is not a matter of policy. It can only be used as a surprise weapon in economic management: no speculator wants to hold a currency if it is known that its value will be cut in the future, and few voters would back any party that said it would increase, at a stroke, the price of every single import.

Tribune would have preferred to be able to back a candidate for the leader­ship who was saying these things: as it is, we cannot. So we support Mr Gould for leader, in the knowledge that the best likely outcome, even if all the trade unions and constituency Labour parties ballot their members as they should, is Mr Smith as leader and Mr Gould as deputy.

A "dream ticket" it isn't, but it is cer­tainly not a nightmare.

Friday, 17 April 1992


Tribune leader, 17 April 1992

Although it is understandable that Neil Kinnock decided to resign the Labour leadership after last week's general election defeat, there was no need for the trade unions to bounce the party into an instant lead­ership election. It would have been per­fectly easy to find a caretaker accept­able to all for the silly season from July to party conference, and such a course of action would have allowed party members at every level to chew over the reasons for the defeat, debate the way forward and come to informed con­clusions about which politicians they prefer to lead it. If the move to rush the leadership elections was not an attempt to stifle discussion and fix the result for John Smith, it looked remarkably like one.

Still, the National Executive Commit­tee managed to get an extra three weeks before the special conference, and the time must be used by all affili­ated unions and constituency Labour Parties to ballot their members. If it is not, the new leader will lack democrat­ic legitimacy. The immediate priorities for Labour's democratic left are to ensure that the debate over the party's future direction is the defining feature of the leadership election campaign and that the debate is not ended as soon as it is over or, per­haps worse, simply marginalised and ignored. More has got to change in the Labour Party than the face of its leader if it is to win next time. Whoever wins must preside over a transformation of the party.

This is not most importantly a matter of changing detailed policy (even on taxation) nor is it about improving pre­sentation, though these things have a part to play later on. Before getting bogged down in detail, the party needs to address the big questions: how British society has changed in the past decade; how the European economy can be managed for social democratic purposes in an era in which the capaci­ties of the individual European nation states are wholly inadequate to the task; whether there is any future for so­cialism except as redistribution; how a root-and-branch democratisation of Britain and Europe can be achieved; how the impending collapse of Britain's military industries can be handled; what can be done about the runaway crises of Third World poverty and envi­ronmental degradation. In other words, Labour needs to do what it failed to do after 1987: subject itself to a thorough­going political critique.

Tribune believes that the results of this process should include adoption of proportional representation for the Commons, an unambiguous embrace of the goal of a democratic federal Europe and development of Europe-wide strategies for economic management, environmental policy, and global development of Europe-wide strategies for economic management, environmental policy and global development. But at this stage, what is important is not what Tribune or anyone else thinks but the party's willingness to engage in the process.

At the same time, Labour needs radi­cally to democratise its own structures. One member one vote for all major de­cisions and elections is essential and urgent. So too is a serious attempt to revitalise the party's political culture and membership, emphasising not just recruitment but participation, particu­larly of women, and political education.

No single leader can possibly deliver all this on his or her own, but the lead­ership can make some difference. What Labour needs now is people at the top who are open-minded, dynamic, intel­lectually creative and above all adven­turous. Both the contenders so far de­clared for the leadership are capable men, and both are up to the task of leading Labour during a period of pro­found reassessment. Bryan Gould has more of a record as a creative thinker and is more influenced by radical democratic and environmentalist ideas; John Smith has a much better grasp of the need for an essentially European orientation for Labour. If the choice re­mains as it was when we went to press on Wednesday, on balance Tribune prefers Mr Gould, but will of course give both sides ample opportunity to make their cases.

Obviously, however, there is no reason for the choice to re­main as it is. Indeed, the best thing that could happen between now and the closing date for nominations would be the emergence of more candidates so that party members can choose among the full range of political positions put forward in the Labour Party.

Thursday, 9 April 1992


Tribune leader, 9 April 1992

Paddy Ashdown has made it dear that he would refuse to give support to any party attempting to form a government if it did not promise in its Queen's Speech to legislate for “fair votes” before the general election after this one. It is a ridiculous posi­tion, and he knows it. The only major party that might possibly introduce electoral reform for the House of Commons is Labour - but Labour is still only halfway through working out what it really wants.

After years of backing the first-past-the-post system for all elections, Labour is now open to change for the Commons, probably to a version of the German addi­tional member system, as its choice of AMS for its pro­posed Scottish parliament indicates. But, as the interim report of Labour's commission on electoral systems, chaired by Raymond Plant, made clear last year, the party is some way from making a decision in principle about which electoral system it wants for the Com­mons, let alone finalising all the details. Indeed, just about all that the Plant commission has firmly decided for the Commons is that it should not be elected by the single transferable vote (STV) system - which is what Mr Ashdown's party has traditionally backed.

If Labour is moving towards AMS, there is a vocal lobby within the party for the statut quo and a smaller one for the alternative vote system. Among supporters of AMS there are crucial differences, particularly over the percentage of the vote, at regional or national level, that parties would have to reach to secure representa­tion in the Commons. Tribune, for example, while sup­porting the principle of AMS, would not support a ver­sion including a threshold of more than 5 per cent, which would discriminate against Green representation in the Commons. Others would make thresholds high to exclude fascists.

All this is going to have to be worked out - and not just by Labour. For all the Liberal Democrats’ shouting about "fair votes", they have not thought through how, if at all, they are prepared to compromise on their in­sistence on STV. Changing the electoral system cannot legitimately be done by party leaders on the basis of a few back-of-the-envelope calculations in smoke-filled rooms: it demands public debate about principles and details and consensus within parties and among them.

By saying that it will open up the Plant commission to other parties and to a wide range of organisations from civil society, and by saying that the expanded in­quiry will report within a year, Labour has gone as far as anyone could reasonably expect. Mr Ashdown should stop making demands for instant solutions and commit his party to backing Labour's attempt to secure a new consensus on the electoral system, just as it did with the Scottish Constitutional Convention.

Jason and The Face

The award of £200,000 damages and the same again in costs against The Face magazine for libeling Ja­son Donovan shows once again the urgent need for action to reduce the amounts of libel awards. It is ab­surd that a magazine should face closure just because it has wrongly claimed that a pop singer lied when he de­nied that he was gay. (Would he have been so lavishly rewarded if a magazine had wrongly claimed that he was lying when he denied he was straight?) It is time for the amount that can be awarded in damages and costs to be limited to a total of £50,000, pending a thor­ough review of the whole of the law of libel.


Tribune, 9 April 1992

Paul Anderson was at Labour's rally in Sheffield, with all its razzmatazz. But the real campaign has been rather more mundane

“Yesterday was another day of achievement for Britain and British actors at the Oscar cere­monies in Hollywood," John Smith told the thousands of Labour supporters in the Sheffield Arena for Labour's "Rally of the Decade” last Wednesday.

"A triumph for Anthony Hopkins that is well deserved," he went on. "But I have to admit that one long-running saga failed even to get a nomi­nation. Starring John Major, the Conservatives' very own box-office disaster - Honey, I Shrunk the Economy."

At least it was better than John Major's feeble line in cinematic humour when he warned of a "Nightmare on Kin nock Street". It wasn't very good, though. Nor, frankly, were any of the other gags at the Labour extravaganza. The music was pretty dire too.

But none of that really mattered. It didn't mat­ter either that the giant hall wasn't quite as full as the party had hoped, with rows of empty seats at the back and along the sides. It didn't even matter that the harsh acoustics and lighting and the giant video screen behind the podium gave most of the speakers a sinister demagogic air.

This was the Labour Party with the scent of power tingling in its nostrils. Nothing in the world could have stopped every Labour-support­er present from experiencing the show as a run­away success. Three opinion polls earlier in the day had given Labour the sort of lead it needs to win a thumping Commons majority. No one knew as the rally got under way that the next batch of polls, while still giving Labour a lead, were less favourable. Everyone, from Neil Kinnock down to the 10,000 or so ordinary Labour Party members who had come to the rally by coach and car from all over the country, was in triumphalist mood.

The audience lapped up everything, no matter how routine or corny. They cheered when the Shadow Cabinet marched down the central aisle waving and smiling, they went wild when the giant video screen showed Neil and Glenys arriving outside in a helicopter, they erupted into ecstatic whoops when the spotlight picked out the Kinnocks making their way into the arena, shaking hands, saluting the crowd, embracing what appeared to be long-lost friends.

John Smith gave a typically competent speech. Roy Hattersley sounded positively radical in his egalitarianism. There were endorsements from show business celebrities - Mick Hucknall, the singer with Simply Red, Steve Cram, the athlete, Nigel Kennedy, the violinist, Stephen Fry, the actor. Barbara Castle nearly brought the house down when she declared: "This is like 1945. They never dreamed we could win then and we did."

But the climax was Kinnock, cocky and expansive – “Well, all right!” he shouted at the audience as he came on stage, Mick Jagger-style. There followed a rousing attack on the Tory record concentrating on education and housing policies: "The decent people of Britain are revolted by: Government that has broken the consensus of 40 years, a government that has created poverty as a matter of policy just as it has used unemployment as the main instrument of economic management," he said. He even tried another film joke. "Recall their impeccable timing on the day that Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar in Hollywood, when they described me as ‘Hannibal’,” he grinned. Needless to say, it worked a treat.

* * *

Sheffield got plenty of coverage on the television and in all the papers, not least because it was the glitziest and biggest political rally ever held in Britain. It also produced some useful film clips for use in Monday's party election broadcast.

But its main purpose was to boost Labour morale before the last week of the campaign. In 1987, the big razzmatazz rally of the Labour campaign took place in London on the Sunday before polling day - and it effectively marked the end of Labour's national campaign. After the ral­ly, Labour sat exhausted on its laurels for four days, watching the Liberal-Social Democrat Al­liance, which it thought it had effectively squeezed, claw its way back in the opinion polls at Labour's expense.

This time, Labour has done all it can to inten­sify, the campaign over the last week, making a particular point of trying to woo wavering centre voters.

The most spectacular part of this was the re­launch of Labour's constitutional reform proramme by Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley at the end of last week, which has dominated the agenda for the heavy newspapers ever since.

In many ways, however, the effort on the ground in the marginals has been more impor­tant. By the end of last week, Labour had shifted nearly all its resources and personnel into its target seats and had let its local activists know that there should be no let-up before the ballot boxes were sealed.

Labour's daily agents' briefing, Winning Post, made the strategy clear: "Momentum means in­creased campaign visibility relative to the con­tenders - showing that we are moving forwards the last three weeks. We must be positive, urgent and attractive.” Parties were urged to increase their presence on the streets, "blitz" selected ar­eas with propaganda, balloons and stickers, get as many posters into windows as possible and continue canvassing right up to the last day of the campaign.

"The Liberal vote is very soft," the briefing went on. "The chances are that you won't have a high number of defined Liberal supporters show­ing up in your canvass figures." In the final week, local Labour parties were directed to "con­centrate strongly on the key issues of concern to Liberal voters: health, the economy and particu­larly education, while emphasising that "the choice is between a Labour government and a Conservative government". In Scotland and Wales, the same tactics were recommended to deal with the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.

According to Labour headquarters, the local parties in the marginals have responded vigorously to the call to arms. "It's going very well in­deed. Very positive," said Sally Morgan, Walworth Road's key seat co-ordinator, early this week.

* * *

Of course, no one will know until the results are in whether such optimism is justified. But, whatever the result, Labour has good reason to be pleased with the way that the campaign has gone. Although in 1987 Labour had, on the whole, a bet­ter national campaign than the Tories, the party failed to make its national campaign timetable dominant, and locally Labour's efforts were patchy.

Not everything has gone completely according to plan this time. The “war of Jennifer's ear" over Labour's health party election broadcast a fort­night ago threw Labour severely off balance. Al­though the party recovered, the affair meant that it has since been unable to give health the prominence that had originally been sketched into the schedule. The furore also eclipsed one Labour attempt to make an issue of poll tax (al­though the party had another go last weekend) and upset the timing of its push on education policy, which looked dangerously like a desperate attempt to catch up with the Liberal Democrats by the time it came last week.

Nevertheless, Labour has dominated the cam­paign agenda nationally as it was never able to in 1987, and the Tories' undoubted incompetence is by no means the only reason. From the shadow budget onwards, Labour's initiatives have been detailed, sensible and fully costed, forcing the Tories to respond rather than develop their own campaigning themes. Labour's senior politi­cians have been better briefed than at any time in living memory, and they have come across as confident and competent on television and radio: gaffes have been relatively few and far between. Perhaps most important, the early stages of the campaign this time did not rely over-heavily on Kinnock, the focus of the 1987 campaign. As a re­sult, he has looked much fresher than the other party leaders since being moved to the centre of Labour's campaign in the final week.

But the main difference with 1987 is the way in which Labour has managed to intervene local­ly. In the past five years, communications be­tween headquarters and local parties have been transformed. Everything from poster distribution to policy briefings has been better in this cam­paign than ever before. If there's no room for complacency, there's plenty for pride in a job done as well as it could be done. Let's hope that it has all been enough.

Friday, 3 April 1992


Tribune leader, 3 April 1992

When the election campaign started, the Conservatives were confidently predicting that they would win an overall majority of 20. Today, as even they admit off the record, the best they can hope for is to be the largest party, clinging to power with the help of the Ulster Unionists.

Even though most Liberal Democrat voters are former Tories and, whatever Paddy Ashdown may say about being prepared to go into coalition with either of the main parties if the terms are right, the Liberal Democrats know that their credibility would collapse if they agreed to shore up the Tories. The Tory campaign has been alternately lack-lustre and filthy. Their senior politicians look either dull and uninspiring or dangerously mad. This worn-out, dis­credited Government knows that it needs a miracle to win on April 9.

So far, everything in the campaign has gone accord­ing to plan for Labour, apart from last week's party election broadcast on health. It is now apparent that Labour walked unwittingly into a well-planned Tory ambush, exacerbating its difficulties by not making it clear from the start that the film was a representation of a typical case rather than a straight documentary about a particular one. Although the ambush was even­tually revealed for what it was, Labour's discomfort was a timely reminder that too much hype can damage a perfectly good case.
This week, Labour has been emphasising its positive agenda for ending the recession, introducing a fair tax­ation system and improving education and the welfare state.

It is right to do so: these are the bread-and-butter issues that will determine most voters' choices. But, as polling day approaches, it would be foolish for Labour not to give some prominence to its policies on Europe, aid to the Third World, the environment and constitutional reform. With the exception of devolution for Scotland, none of these is likely to swing more than a few middle-class votes - but those few votes could be enough to return the majority Labour government that Britain so desperately needs.

Fair shares for the poor

Nothing illustrates better the Tories' contempt for working people than their attitude to Labour's pro­posal for a statutory minimum wage of £3.40 an hour. The Labour plan is a modest attempt to improve the lot of those 5 million or so workers, many of them women and part-timers and many of them unorganised, who are currently on scandalously low rates of pay. Its main problem is that it will be very difficult to police and enforce except in larger unionised companies.

Yet the Tories have rubbished the minimum wage, claiming that it will cost billions to introduce in the Na­tional Health Service, that it will increase inflation and will lead to 2 million job losses. Independent ana­lysts disagree on all three counts, with some reckoning that total job losses would be as low as 4,000 in three years, and there is no evidence that a statutory mini­mum wage has had any detrimental effects in any Euro­pean Community country that has one. Why do the To­ries not admit that their real concern is the profits of low-wage employers, some of whom, particularly those in retailing and the hotel and catering trades, are among their biggest backers?


Tribune, 3 April 1992

In an exclusive report, Paul Anderson goes behind the scenes at Labour's HQ

Jack Cunningham, Labour's cam­paigns co-ordinator, is in bullish mood as he surveys the south London skyline from his office in the party's Walworth Road headquarters. "The verdict is so far so good," he beams. "It's so much easier to keep the momentum going from the front."

It is 11am in the morning, and he has already been up nearly six hours. He gets to Labour's temporary media centre at Millbank, across the road from the Houses of Parliament, at 6.30am, and by 6.45am he is in his first meeting of the day with the Labour media team, discussing the day's tactics. After chairing a press conference for half-an-hour from 7.45am, he does three or four interviews. Then at 9.45am there's another meeting, this time of Labour's campaign man­agement team, which assesses the state of play and determines the main messages that the par­ty's "key campaigners" - the Shadow Cabinet politicians who are touring Britain - should con­centrate upon for the day.

We have caught Cunningham during the hour or so which he puts aside for scouring the news­papers: the day still has a lot more in store. "More broadcast interviews at lunchtime and maybe in the early evening, chats with all the heads of department at Walworth Road, another campaign management team meeting at 7.30am. With luck I’ll be in bed by midnight and then it's 5.15am all over again."

A fortnight of that would do most people in - and Cunningham also has the problem that his own constituency, Copeland, in far-off Cumbria, is highly marginal, so he has to fit in campaign­ing there as well at the weekends. But the prospect of winning power is obviously a heady tonic. Cunningham looks as fresh as a daisy - and his enthusiasm is infectious. The party is in bet­ter shape than at any time since the early six­ties,” he says. "Everybody's just getting stuck in."
The campaign management team which Cunningham heads co-ordinates the work of five campaign groups: projec­tion, under David Hill; organisation, un­der Joyce Gould; monitoring, under Larry Whitty; internal communications; administration.

The projection group is probably the most glamorous and is certainly the biggest, with nearly 140 people listed in Labour's special cam­paign internal telephone directory, although not all are squeezed into Walworth Road. Projection includes the Shadow, Communications Agency, under Philip Gould, based at Transport House, which is more or less in charge of party election broadcasts and oversees events and propaganda; and it co-ordinates the activities of Neil Kinnock, the other "key campaigners", the media office and a campaign assessment unit headed by Patri­cia Hewitt, also at Transport House.

As far as public perceptions of the campaign concerned, the most important part of this is probably the key campaigners unit, which is re­sponsible for getting the 14 or 15 Labour high-ups on to the television and for making sure that they do not make fools of themselves. Every "key campaigner" can be contacted at any time by telephone and by fax wherever he or she may be, and each has at least one member of staff at Walworth Road, working on background briefings.

So far, the system has worked a treat. While the Tories have lost cabinet ministers on the road for hours at a time, Labour has been able to keep track of its politicians constantly, keeping them informed of what is going on. That has meant fewer gaffes and fewer television journal­ists frustrated because they cannot get the pic­tures they want.

All the campaign events except photo-opportu­nities are run by an office headed by Jim Parish. "Anything that has to happen we make happen," he says, puffing at a cigar. Today his tasks have already included the 7.45am press conference in Millbank and a 9am press conference in Glasgow.

Still to come are a lecture by Kinnock at 3pm in Manchester, an afternoon policy launch with Robin Cook in London and an evening rally in Norwich. Parish is in charge of two road teams, complete with stage set, sound, lighting and stage management, which are touring the coun­try for nightly rallies. The biggest was due to start in Sheffield as this issue of Tribune went to press. "That lighting worked well this morning," he tells a passing colleague as we leave his office.

The monitoring group directs Labour's opinion polling (in league with Patricia Hewitt), tracks the media, watches what the opposition is up to and, along with the organisation group, keeps an eye on the cam­paign in the target marginals. For the duration of the campaign, Larry Whitty is effectively Labour's intelligence chief, and he seems to enjoy the role, even though he gets up even earlier than Jack Cunningham.

"Everything's going quite smoothly," he says. "More people than we hoped have become active, although some extra effort is still needed in the marginals. And the Tories' campaign can't get much worse. They're on the ropes. They haven't had the same degree of planning that we've had, and Central Office isn't as experienced or as clear as we are about our roles. They're certain to get better, but we'll get bet­ter too. We'll be getting different people in on the creative side for the last couple of days, and of course we'll run down some of the routine stuff and get people out to the constituencies."

The opposition-watching unit now has more than 1,000 quotes from Tory politicians on its computer database which it feeds out to the projection people - the first time ever that gaffes have been computerised by Labour - and there are spies in the Tory press conferences collecting raw material every day. "We're expecting some­thing big in the next few days," say Whitty. "Per­sonal attack on Neil, nasty stuff..."

Most of the times when Joyce Gould hits the headlines it is for expelling members of Militant from the Labour Party, but now, as head of organisa­tion, she is in charge of liaison with the trade unions and regional Labour Parties, advice to agents, targeting key groups of voters (particu­larly women), keeping Labour's computers at work, the legal support unit and a share of re­sponsibility for target seats.

Gould breaks off a meeting with Sally Morgan, the target seats supremo, to tell us that it is all going very well indeed. "We haven't got the major problems we had in 1987 and we know where the minor ones are. Labour is going very well. In the West Midlands, there has been a complete switch among the C2s. The north-west is looking good too."

''We've been planning this campaign for two years - and now we're seeing it happen," she says. "It's going absolutely to schedule. We still need more effort in the key seats, though. Why don't you tell people to find out what their near­est one is?"

Agents and candidates are getting daily brief­ings which even the hardest-nosed politicians praise, there are direct phone lines to most con­stituencies and the key seats are all connected to electronic mail for thrice-daily missives. There is instant telephone policy advice available to can­didates, and more than 100,000 pocket policy handbooks have gone out. "There's more activity than at any election I've fought since 1974," says Geoff Bish, Labour's veteran policy director.

Behind the scenes is an army of em­ployees and volunteers, each one as cru­cial as any high-profile spin-doctor, poli­cy boffin, strategist or bureaucrat at the top of the pile.

The computer department has 300 constituen­cies on its database for direct mail and canvass­ing lists (it had 30 in 1987), and it turned out 20 million labels for direct mail in three weeks after the publication of the new electoral rolls in February. Most of its work is over now but it is still running helplines for local Labour parties that can't get their computers to work properly. The heaviest pressure is also off the writers and sub-editors in the propaganda unit, who have turned round countless leaflets and docu­ments and whose greatest feat was getting the manifesto into printable shape within four hours of the politicians deciding what they wanted in it. "We were working at fever-pitch in the fort­night before the election was called. We're still busy but the worst is over now," says Charles Foster, one of three writer-subs now engaged on transforming bureaucratese into English for the various daily briefings.

The external print-buying operation is awe­some: Mo Caldon, the print buyer, reckons that she has ordered more than 12 million leaflets, 65,000 posters, 30,000 estate-agent-style boards and 10,000 to 15,000 stickers emblazoned with candidates' names.

The internal print (the briefings for candi­dates, the press material and so on) is printed on the premises. One of the printers, Bob Smith, says that he has been on the go constantly since the campaign started - "Not overtime, just ex­tended hours, you could say” - and the people in charge of getting the stuff out have had a similarly exhausting time. "We've been doing 10 or 11 hours on the trot, but no complaints," says Ivy Smith, who runs the internal despatch unit in the Walworth Road basement. "The cost of the postage is just too frightening."

The bulk of the mail bill, however, is spent by external despatch, which took over an old Post Office building in Union Street near Southwark Bridge 24 hours after John Major announced the election date and since then have shifted most of the leaflets, posters, rosettes and so forth or­dered by Walworth Road to constituency parties and individual Labour supporters. The proud boast is that everything goes out within 24 hours. The efficiency of the operation has meant that Labour has won the poster war hands down just about everywhere except in a few Liberal Democrat strongholds.

So who pays for all this? Well, the unions and Labour Party members' sub­scriptions, of course, but also the indi­vidual donors who answer Labour ap­peals for cash. Last Thursday, the fundraising unit near King's Cross station broke off for cele­bratory champagne at the beginning of the af­ternoon having reached, nearly a fortnight before schedule, the £1 million target which had been set for the whole campaign. Unsurprisingly, the fundraising organisers and their volunteer helpers, many of them pensioners, are pleased as punch. "It's incredible," says Tony Manwairing, the fundraising supremo. "Really fantastic."

Making sure that too much isn't spent still re­mains a nightmare, however. "This five or six weeks is the equivalent of six months of normal activity," says a hassled-looking Peter Ballard, pouring over spread-sheets in the office manage­ment department.

It has been an exhausting day in an ex­hausting campaign, and there is still plenty of time to go. But the Labour headquarters exudes an optimism that rubs off. This time, Labour really believes that it is going to win.

I think so too, but a word of caution is in order. On hearing my report of high morale and opti­mism at Walworth Road, a friend who was there in 1987 tells me: "It was just like that last time. They even had a cabaret for election night - and people really thought victory was possible right to the very last minute. After the first few re­sults came through, the whole place simply col­lapsed. I’ve never seen anything like it." Even this hardened politico has money on Labour this time, but sanity demands that we temper our op­timism of the will with plenty of pessimism of the intellect.