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East-Enders brighten Tories' rainy day

John Major was mobbed by Asian supporters yesterday when his campaign went to the East End of London.

The crush was so great that security officers protecting the Prime Minister had to take Norma Major out of the crowd for her personal safety. In a later walkabout at Ilford in east London, Mrs Major, still apparently shaken by her experience in the crowd, remained in the background while the Prime Minister did a walkabout for the first time in the campaign.

In some of the most extraordinary scenes of the five-week campaign, Mr Major, surrounded by police, security men, and camera crews in Whitechapel and was nearly crushed by the weight of chanting Asian East-Enders. Mr Major had intended to spend some time inside the forecourt of the mosque in Whitechapel, but he found a chanting mob there shouting "long live John Major - East-End welcome."

There was a smattering of heckling, but buoyed by the reception which prevented the Prime Minister completing his programme at the mosque, Mr Major said: "This is the bit I enjoy most."

He clearly felt that if the reception at the mosque could be repeated across Britain, he would be home and dry. There was booing when he went on a walkabout later in Ilford High Street, where the Tories are fighting one of the key marginals.

There are eight Conservative seats in London with majorities of less than 10 per cent which Labour is hoping to take with a swing of less than 2.5 per cent, including Hayes and Harlington, Croydon North, Edmonton, Brentworth, Mitcham and Morden and Ilford South, won by Labour in 1992 under the old boundaries.

The Tories have been boosted in Tower Hamlets, where Labour has installed Oona King against the wishes of some local supporters.

Sher Ullah, 28, a student, said as the Prime Minister did his walkabout: "There are a lot of floating voters who are planning to vote Conservative next week, because they do not like the way the candidates have been selected by their party." The Tories are fielding Kabir Choudhury, who was born in Bangladesh.

But Mr Major, after 18 years of the Tories in power, is finding it impossible to shake off the past.

He went by boat to London Docklands yesterday to highlight the regeneration of the city accompanied by Steven Norris, the former transport minister for London, whose other claim to fame was his widely publicised string of lovers.

Also on the Thames ferry the Beta, was Sheila Gunn, the Prime Minister's press security, who was one of Mr Norris's mistresses. They remain on friendly terms, but did not exchange so much as a glance as the campaign sailed down the Thames to Docklands.