Election '97: Hard to put a face to predicted Blairite swing

John Major is pinning his hopes of winning the election on those still undecided. Yesterday Independent reporters visited six Tory marginals and found voters coming off the fence and switching their allegiance to Tony Blair: Cleethorpes
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The Independent Online
Talk to a traditional Conservative voter in Cleethorpes and you will encounter resigned acceptance that a Labour MP will be elected here on Thursday for the first time in living memory.

Labour supporters will tell you the same; so will Liberal Democrats. Yet the signs on the street yesterday were that this seat is not so clear cut as many voters assume.

In order to take the seat from Michael Brown, the right-of-centre Tory, the Blairite Shona McIsaac needs to overturn a majority of about 6,500. Statisticians say taking Cleethorpes, Labour's 74th target seat, would give Labour a majority of at least 30. Boundary changes have been kind to Labour, eradicating some of the Tory heartlands in the southern parts of the old Brigg and Cleethorpes constituency. Party canvassers say old Tories are coming over to Labour in their droves, but we found precious few on the streets yesterday.

Many people intending to vote Conservative said they believed Labour would win. But, when asked whether their friends were switching to Labour, none could name any.

Alan Briscoe and his wife, Terry, both in their fifties, said they wavered for a time, but ultimately felt they couldn't trust Tony Blair. "I'm afraid I can remember what it was like the last time Labour were in, and I believe the unions are waiting in the wings," said Mr Briscoe.

One waverer The Independent spoke to two weeks ago has now decided to come down on the side of the Conservatives. John Bayliss, 49, a financial adviser, said he had been swayed by Labour's plans for Scottish devolution.

"I believe that is the thin end of the wedge," he said. Mr Bayliss was also swayed by the Conservatives' promise to hold a referendum on a single currency. He was unaware that Labour had made the same pledge, reflecting the Labour campaign hierarchy's concern that they have failed to get the party's policy on Europe across to many voters.

There was some evidence that young people are impressed by the honesty of the Liberal Democrats, although there was a belief, too, that a Lib- Dem vote was a waste.

Sarah Langley, 20, said: "I'm voting Labour tactically because I want the Tories out. But if there was any chance of the Liberal Democrat [Keith Melton] getting in, I'd vote for him. I like their policies better than Labour's. Labour seems to have forgotten about the ordinary people."

However, the rump of traditional Labour voters in the constituency feel confident that they will win and they see Tony Blair and his reforms as the reason why one nation Tories will switch.

"John Major doesn't seem to have any life in him, whereas Tony Blair has revitalised Labour," said Kathleen Wilbourne, 50. "People are ready for a change but they are also concerned about other issues, particularly health. Hospitals round here are so bad, I'd rather slit my throat than go in."