Anger spreads in PM's own back garden

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The Independent Online
PHILOSOPHICALLY, Enid Paylor is one of Tony Blair's model constituents; a working-class woman who's bettered herself despite the blight that surrounds her in Newton Aycliffe, one of the poorest parts of the Prime Minister's Sedgefield territory.

Mrs Paylor has bought her own council house, furnished it immaculately, decked out the tiny back yard in fuchsias and marigolds and is now seriously into the use of the new laws on anti-social behaviour as a way of dragging up standards amid the flat-roofed box homes on the Williamfield estate. In a New Labour way, she's building a community here, has formed a residents' group and runs the local Neighbourhood Watch.

From Mr Blair's perspective, though, Mrs Paylor is about to veer way off message in a Channel 4 documentary, which is in parts a humiliating indictment of Labour activists' understanding of people here.

Tony's People, which begins a five-week run on Thursday, captures Mrs Paylor's frustration with under-investment on a problem estate where some rat-infested houses have stood derelict for 20 years and anti-social neighbours take months to remove (she has even been known to haul some undesirables before the residents' committee herself). Mr Blair has never visited the estate, she says. The documentary captures her standing as the only Independent candidate in local elections. The odds are so colossally pro-Labour that the Tories and Liberal Democrats do not field candidates.

The documentary appears to confirm Labour officials' warnings, revealed by The Independent this week, that people believe the party is failing to fulfil its 1997 promises and consider the Government to be remote and "arrogant".

The contrast in the documentary between Mrs Paylor, who comes across as a convincing working class champion, and the New Labour activists might make Mr Blair wince.

Some particularly embarrassing scenes from Thursday's opening episode capture the concerns of a Labour councillor, Martin Locklin, with flower beds, which he wants tidy in time for a visit to local schools from Mr Blair. "What New Labour's about is them flower beds," he says. And out on the stump he receives a hostile welcome. "He can't find any babies to kiss," the narrator comments.

The documentary observes that without opposition, Labour has let things slide, an assertion that local party activists confirm for the cameras. They agree the estates are lamentable.

Bert Berton, a pensioner, is happier, though. "The economy is stronger than ever," he said yesterday. "We really have never had it so good."

But Darren Wilkinson's contract at a Newton Aycliffe logistics firm has not been renewed; work dried up because of the effect of the strong pound. Monetary union worries him. "I'm definitely not for it but it seems like we're going in," he says. Flower beds may be the least of Labour's problems in Sedgefield.