TORY leader William Hague got some Comic Relief from election fever yesterday when he visited the head offices of The Northern Echo.

Mr Hague visited the newspaper offices in Priestgate, Darlington, yesterday morning as part of his build-up to the General Election.

He was shown the pioneering Communigate initiative, which has so far established free web sites for more than 400 community organisations in the region under The Northern Echo's website www.

One of the organisations with a Communigate site is Brompton-on-Swale Primary, from Mr Hague's Richmondshire constituency, and pupils from the school were at the newspaper offices to meet him.

They also took the opportunity to don red noses and ask him for a donation to Comic Relief, with Mr Hague coughing up £10.

The Northern Echo is in the unique position of being the local newspaper for both Prime Minister Tony Blair and Tory leader Mr Hague.

Despite a new poll in The Daily Telegraph pointing to a 26-point lead for Labour, Mr Hague was in upbeat mood and said he believed the election was "still all to play for" with a large proportion of voters undecided.

"We are the underdog. But we knew we would be the underdog on May 2 1997. On the basis of everything we've seen since, we are going to do well. I'm confident, optimistic and upbeat," he said.

In an exclusive interview with The Northern Echo's Political Editor Chris Lloyd, he also spoke about the foot and mouth crisis, calling on the Government to bring in the Army.