Anybody here seen Charlie?

WITH less than 100 days to go before the probable date of the General Election, the Liberal Democrats nationally have gone remarkably quiet, given that they claim to be the real opposition to Tony Blair's government.

WITH less than 100 days to go before the probable date of the General Election, the Liberal Democrats nationally have gone remarkably quiet, given that they claim to be the real opposition to Tony Blair's government.

Charles Kennedy is being engulfed as Messrs Blair and Howard slug it out in the phoney war being waged by the Prime Minister, who coyly suggests he hasn't made his mind up when to go to the country, and Michael Howard who is certain it will be May 5.

Mr Kennedy's advisers made a major miscalculation when they launched the party's spending, taxation and council tax plans on the same day the Tories unveiled their curb on bureaucracy and waste. The Conservatives hogged all the headlines, with the Lib Dems poor also rans down the pecking order of the newspaper and broadcasting agendas.

And yesterday, Mr Kennedy's announcement of a new maternity income guarantee for low income working mothers after childbirth was drowned in the slipstream of the Conservatives' well trailed review of asylum and immigration policy.


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The Lib Dems need the oxygen of publicity to achieve a real breakthrough. They have to make a net gain of 49 to reach 100 MPs, a target now looking well beyond them following their fall from the giddy heights of those opinion poll ratings during and after the Iraq war two years' ago. Even talk of 73 MPs in the next Parliament would seem to be moonshine - that would require an average net gain of two seats in each of the 10 "regions and nations" of mainland Britain plus London.

IT doesn't simply rain disasters for the Conservatives, it pours down from on high. Now the party has lost its East Anglia press officer Richard Forbes-Robertson.

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Appointed last year, he was the main liaison between MPs, candidates, their agents and - most importantly - journalists. He was one of a series of regional appointments by Central Office to ensure the party's General Election campaign was high profile and media friendly.

Having met him just once last summer, I was due today to discuss with him Conservative Party coverage in the region. Instead, the following stark e-mail arrived: "I've been headhunted and have resigned so I'm afraid I'm cancelling our dinner."

With key marginals Braintree, Harwich, Welwyn-Hatfield, Peterborough, and Great Yarmouth to win and Bury St Edmunds, Bedfordshire South-West, Castle Point, Norfolk South and Norfolk North-West to defend, the Conservatives are now leaving it perilously late to embed someone in the East of England.

And with the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats on high alert regionally, the Tories are largely dependent of their Londoncentric hi-tech Central Office media unit to look the vast majority of newspapers which never send journalists to Westminster.

THE wife of a senior Conservative politician, criticising the calibre and unelectability of Tory parliamentary candidates, asks: "What should we do with this bunch of weirdos mourning the passing of Thatcher?" Suggestions please to The Candidates' Department, Conservative Central Office, 25 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0DL.

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