Election '97: AROUND THE REGIONS: Educated decisions over tactics

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The Independent Online
Bristol's four seats are shared equally between Conservative and Labour at the moment. But boundary changes have given Bristol North West, held by Tory MP Michael Stern, to Labour, leaving all attention on Bristol West, seat of William Waldegrave, Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

He commands a handsome-seeming majority of 16 per cent, but the seat has a reputation for tactical voting and will be an intriguing test case. The Liberal Democrats, in second place, are bullish about snatching a victory. But they will need a big tactical squeeze on Labour, who claimed a quarter of the votes in 1992.

The seat has the honour of being dubbed the most intelligent in Britain: it includes the university, with 11,000 students, and boasts more voters with degrees than anywhere else.

The area also has some Labour supporters prepared to vote tactically. Valerie Shepherd, 52, a teacher who lives in the middle-class suburb of Henleaze, said: "The bottom line is to get the Tories out. I used to be a staunch Labour supporter but I think the Liberal Democrats provide the best alternative."

Jessica Slater, 21, a student at Cambridge, is voting in her home constituency because she believes it is in Bristol West where her vote will count most. "I wanted to vote against the Tories and have decided to vote for the Liberal Democrats. If I had been voting in a constituency where Labour had most chance of winning the seat, then I would have voted for them."

The Liberal Democrat candidate is seasoned campaigner Charles Boney, a 46-year-old teacher who has been a city councillor for 17 years. But Labour are fielding a strong candidate too - Valerie Davey, who used to be Labour leader on the now defunct Avon county council. With Labour rampant not just in national opinion polls but in local elections in the constituency, the party threatens to overtake the Liberal Democrats and split the opposition vote.

The tactical argument does not convince all the voters. Judie Lee, 43, from St Andrew's, is switching from the Liberal Democrats to Labour. "I don't have a lot of time for politics, but I just have a gut feeling that Labour have a strong chance of winning the seat," she said.

Mr Waldegrave has been helped by boundary changes: his seat now takes in middle-class Westbury-on-Trym, a rich vein of Tory support. But these extra 4,000 voters might be cancelled out to some extent by a larger-than- usual student vote. His greatest hope must be for his two main opponents to knock each other out and leave him to take the spoils.

The contest in Bristol's other seats is dull by comparison. Bristol East, most of which was Tony Benn's seat from 1950 until 1983, is still technically a marginal but safe this time round for Jean Corston. It typifies "middle England", with suburbs full of skilled working class owner-occupiers who were wooed in the Eighties by Margaret Thatcher's economic policies. But politics has moved on.

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