Election '97 : AROUND THE REGIONS

Rutland whizz too fast for country lanes
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The Independent Online
It would take a political upheaval of cataclysmic proportions to see any other than a Conservative member returned for Rutland and Melton.

In 1992 Alan Duncan was returned with a 41 per cent majority over Labour and, realistically, the main event this time round remains the fight for second place, with the details of Mr Duncan's reduced majority as an interesting sideshow.

Both the UK Independence Party and the Referendum Party promise candidates, and the Liberal Democrats have a popular and well-known prospect in 29- year-old Kim Lee, who can be expected to pull in a high personal vote, especially in his native Rutland where he is deputy leader of the newly created county council and regularly tops the polls in local authority elections.

Personalities will certainly be a significant factor in the final voting figures - not least in Alan Duncan's. An oil trader and self-made millionaire, although he strongly denies claims that he is the 50th richest man in Britain, Mr Duncan, 40, is razor-sharp clever, and as ambitious as one might expect from someone with such a glowing Thatcherite curriculum vitae. He swaps his city Jaguar for a Range Rover when he comes to the constituency and diligently keeps up with dress codes, but he is not a hit with many traditional shire Tories and their wives.

The memory of a tabloid attack a couple of years ago over the residence he acquired a step away from Parliament under the council-house right- to-buy scheme still lingers in some minds. And despite the fact that his fortune was entirely respectably made, some still eye him askance. In fact, he is one of the more intellectual members of the Tory right. Being both rich and bright in interesting new ways is not quite the thing in Rutland and Melton, however. The Labour contender John Meads, whose has a white-collar trade union background, will have trouble keeping Kim Lee at bay. Redrawn constituency boundaries have lost Labour votes from a substantial chunk of suburban Leicester, now replaced by a further stretch of true-blue farming country.

Left-leaning professionals with a taste for country living combine with what relatively few traditional working-class Labour voters there are - mostly in Melton - to give Mr Meads his voting base. Notionally, Labour's 1992 share of the vote under the new boundaries was 16 per cent, against the Liberal Democrats' 21 per cent and the Tories' 61 per cent.

Apart from the Duncan factor, the other issue likely to sway votes is undoubtedly Europe.

Rutland businessman, Roger Heath, who has had his ups and downs under the Conservatives, voices a typical doorstep attitude when he says: "Duncan's going to win, isn't he?

''I might put in a protest vote by going for the Referendum Party. It's down to what I feel like on the day. But probably I won't."

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