Three weeks into the British election campaign and at last attention has turned to politics and policies. If Prime Minister John Major had chosen a six-week campaign, the longest since World War II, on the grounds that he might then be able to use its length to win the argument, then until a few days ago he must have been regretting that decision very much. One issue had been dominant - 'sleaze' with allegations of cash for parliamentary questions and affairs among Members of Parliament professing to be from the party championing family values. Mr Major could well have cried foul. The last of the sleaze allegations emerged from a trumped-up affair put together by publicist Max Clifford, a man who has made no secret of his own desire to see the Tories out of office. People began to ask why the sleaze allegations were all so one-sided, why there was no negative publicity over Labour MPs' indiscretions. Were they all innocent? Of course not. So with the launching of the twin Conservative and Labour manifestoes this week the campaigns are, even if only temporarily, back on track. Much has been made of the 'presidential' nature of campaigning, both manifestoes being presented as the personal work of the leader, both men being projected as the figures you can trust. Forget the parties, it is the leader not those nasty MPs you are voting for. More than one pundit has commented that if John Major was not encumbered by the unpleasant baggage of so many in his own party he would have no problem getting re-elected. The same goes for Labour leader Tony Blair, again projecting his own personal commitment while other figures suspected of creating less distance between them and old 'tax and spend' policies are kept out of the way. At one stage this week Mr Major could have taken heart in Labour's lead apparently dropping from 26 to 14 points, but the poll for The Guardian newspaper was an aberration. Other polls have shown the Labour lead steady if not still growing, with the sleaze factor having taken its toll. Mr Major, if not exactly a trump card, is still the Tories' best asset. Labour knows that and Mr Major is partially the reason Mr Blair has turned down the chance of a series of televised debates with the prime minister. The Tories have even hired an actor to dress up in chicken clothes waving a placard 'Chicken Blair Won't Debate' at Labour events. It's a gimmick - and not an original one at that. Bill Clinton used a chicken to chase George Bush in 1992 over the same issue. Another gimmick came from the third party, the Liberal Democrats, which produced a piece of puppet theatre designed to show what it called 'the puerile state of two-party adversarial politics,' - a vain attempt to regain the fleeting significance they have had during other campaigns. The personalities of the leaders will play a vital part in this election. Hence the handing out to the press of photocopies of Mr Blair's hand-written pledges scribbled on paper in his back garden as he was drawing up the manifesto. Mr Blair refers often to 'my bond of trust with the people of Britain'. He has ruled out what he calls 'unfulfilable promises' but asks the country to take him at face value. There were few surprises in Labour's manifesto, built on 10 policy pledges all of which were known beforehand and of which education is the one on which he would prefer to concentrate. A quarter of a million young unemployed will be helped into work via the magic carpet of a windfall tax on the profits of the big utilities. There are moves to strengthen the family and community life as well as constitutional changes. If there are themes developing, taxation is the principal focus. Labour has done a complete about turn from previous campaigns and points the finger at the Tories, asking how they can afford their pledges of reducing income tax to 20 pence in the pound and creating a big tax break for partners within marriages who give up work to look after children or an infirm relative. Labour cheekily has a pledge of an eventual cut to 10 pence in the pound - although that is so far away as to be hardly worthwhile considering. Mr Blair insists his is now a broad-based party not attached to narrow, sectional or class interests. 'This is our historic opportunity,' he said. 'If we blow this opportunity we blow our place in history.' But the downside of the 'trust me' approach is that there are many aspects of Labour's plans which are not spelt out in detail. The inference, therefore, is that they have to be accepted purely because you believe they will deliver. Its leaders are accused time and again of asking for a leap in the dark. Time and again they ask for trust. An example: In what is meant to be an indication of its caution and thrift, Labour says it will not breach the existing government's spending plans. But the catch is that they include GBP1.5 billion (about HK$19 billion) from future privatisations which Labour is against, although it has not ruled them out. Hence, there is already a gap in the credibility of its own spending plans. The government's principal stance of strength is that since the economy is not broken and is in fact doing extremely well in European terms, it would be crazy to let Labour loose on it. Nonetheless, as the polls stand - no matter which ones you believe - on current showing Labour will win with a workable majority, possibly even a landslide. The task now for Mr Major is to try to exploit the gap in Labour's plans. Can he do it? Much depends on the party organisation and small things indicate it is suffering bad morale. One prospective Tory MP described to me Tory Central Office's planning and tactics as a 'disaster' so far. Despite Mr Major's avowed intent to woo Britain's ethnic minorities, for instance, there is so far, unlike in 1992, no material in Chinese for the Hong Kong born population in several British cities. The Tories will return time and again to their recent economic record and claim that Labour measures - particularly signing up to the European Union's Social Chapter on minimum wages and working conditions - will add to business costs. But Labour can rightly claim the Tories' record on taxes and public spending is less impressive than they make out. There have been cuts in income tax in recent years but at the expense of increases in other taxes, particularly VAT. There are deep suspicions over their claims that even the Tories' tax plans are affordable and many believe public spending programmes may have to be cut back further and indirect taxes rise if its proposals are to come to fruition. The Tories remain targeted on Middle England via tax, education and law-and-order policies. But several pundits have pointed out that they actually need to do something to win over the waverers; the floating voters; the ones who refuse to answer the pollsters' questions; the ones who say they won't vote. Mr Major may yet be let down again by his own party. Take his negotiate-and-decide-later approach on whether Britain should join a future European single currency. The Tory manifesto makes it appear the party is entirely united behind that stance. But in reality it is as split as ever and many Tory candidates are likely to reject that stance during the campaign, prime stuff for Labour to exploit. And will Mr Major really stand up and condemn his own potential MPs who do not speak in the same terms as he?