Graham's first Election Diary

IN the heat of battle, some troops are regrettably killed by friendly fire – gunned down by their own side. It happened this week to Labour's Ivan Henderson in Harwich.

IN the heat of battle, some troops are regrettably killed by friendly fire – gunned down by their own side. It happened this week to Labour's Ivan Henderson in Harwich.

When Foreign Secretary Jack Straw turned up to launch Mr Henderson's re-election bid, he was cheekily asked by my Scouse colleague Ted Jeory who had the best chance of survival – Straw's beloved Blackburn Rovers or Mr Henderson.

"Both," he said laughing. "No, Blackburn I think."

Oh calamity! Realising what he had said, he corrected himself hastily, adding: "We're both going to survive, but it's not about survival, it's about success."

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Blackburn are currently sixth from bottom in the Premiership, but could easily be dragged into the relegation dogfight.

And its certainly a scrap in Harwich. The latest "poll of polls" by Electoral Calculus, based on the average of surveys carried out for the media this week, lists the constituency as one of 29 seats that will be gained by the Conservatives.

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But with a predicted majority of jusre over 1,000 for Conservative candidate Douglas Carswell, perhaps Mr Henderson needs a Chelsea supporting Cabinet minister to turn up and cheer him on.

THE Straw gaff followed another mishap Mr Henderson – his mobile phone broke on Monday and he had to arrange for an emergency replacement. Surely it's not tuning into a saga to match tomorrow's jinxed wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles?

GAY and lesbian voters are being warned "Go to bed with Charlie, wake up with Howard" in a pre-election campaign targeting homosexuals.

Beer mats bearing the message, along with the faces of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative party leaders, are being strategically placed in gay and lesbian venues across the country.

On the back of the mats – produced by the Labour Campaign for Gay and Lesbian Rights – is a check-list of moves towards equality under Labour including a common age of consent.

Perhaps it's not the cleverest campaign message – Charlie is also another name for cocaine.

DON'T get drunk – that's the uncompromising message to Liberal Democrat candidates at this election by the thought police at party headquarters in Cowley Street.

My distinguished colleague in the Commons press corps, Chris Moncreiff of the Press Association, unearthed the edict in a guidance pamphlet issued for Charles Kennedy's representatives on the ground.

Chris remarks that it does not say much for the calibre of Liberal Democrat candidates, if the headquarters control freaks fear they might start banging on electors' doors in a state of alcoholic stupor.

However, at the end of a busy day – no lunch-time drinking, please – candidates may have one pint of beer or one spirit. That's right, just one.

Those of us who can remember the heady days of the Young Liberals can only shake our heads in disbelief as the Puritans take over the farm.

TALKING of the Liberal Democrats, some bright spark has insisted that journalists applying for daily election press conference accreditation must certify their height in feet and inches.

No doubt the relevance of this request will be become apparent in the coming weeks. But shame on the European super state federalist Lib Dems – they didn't ask for my statistics in metric. Their masters in Brussels will be peeved!

TWO former high profile Liberal Democrats activists in Colchester and the wife of the town's Referendum Party candidate in 1997 have got the campaign in the town off to a lively start by endorsing Conservative hopeful Kevin Bentley.

Mr Bentley's nomination papers will be signed by Gerald and Beverley Oxford, former Liberal Democrat borough councillors who campaigned for Colchester Liberal Democrat Bob Russell in 1997 and 2001.

Pauline Hazell, whose late husband John stood for the late Sir Jimmy Goldsmith's now defunct Referendum Party in Colchester at the 1997 General Election, has endorsed Mr Bentley.

"Colchester needs a go getting MP who will put our town first above everything else and will fight for all of the people here," says Mrs Hazell.

"Kevin will make a tremendous MP because he doesn't just talk about doing things – he does what he says he will do."

I'LL leave you to wonder if there's any dirty tricks behind suggestions that Conservative leader Michael Howard's health isn't up to scratch, after he suffered a coughing bout this week.

"We all get coughs and snuffles from time to time," he said yesterday as he confirmed that he needs only six hours sleep a night. That's far less than the eight hours usually put forward as required by the average Briton, but compares with the four hours Margaret Thatcher famously needed when she was Prime Minister.

Research by the Sleep Council, published last month, found the average politician gets by on just over five hours' sleeps a night. Only on-call hospital doctors averaged less - just 4.5 hours a night.

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