Election '97: Key marginals lean toward Labour

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: REDDITCH
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Middle England is beginning to swing behind New Labour in significant numbers as polling day approaches, according to The Independent's group of disaffected Conservatives in a key marginal seat.

Over the final, crucial weekend a number of the group in Redditch, Worcestershire - who have swayed to-and-fro during the campaign - have decided to take the "time for a change" message to heart. After much soul-searching in recent days, six out of the 13 will "definitely" vote for Labour with one undecided.

This is the strongest move towards Tony Blair's party in the group for some time and suggests a healthy victory in Redditch and augers well for the party in picking up the vote of so-called Mondeo Man of Middle England.

The reasons for the belated change vary between a feeling that the party under Tony Blair, who has impressed the voters more in recent days, can finally be trusted on the economy as well as other issues, and a sense that the Tories are tired and have broken too many promises.

Butcher Brian Nicolls, 60, a late switcher, saw the Prime Minister's weekend interview with Jonathan Dimbleby and that made up his mind. "I watched the interviews because I wanted to make up my mind. Mr Major was asked about previous promises not to raise tax and he could not give a straightforward answer. I have not voted Labour for many years but I'm going to now."

Engineer Mark Redfern, 29, saw Tony Blair's Frost interview and liked what the Labour leader said including Labour's support for the Social Chapter. "I was a bit disappointed with Mr Blair early in the campaign but he's doing better now. I just hope he keeps his promises."

Another Labour voter will be former British Gas travel manager Roger Frost, 54, who feels let down by the Conservatives, including over the way elderly people have been forced to sell their homes to pay for long- term care.

"It's a big change for me to vote Labour, I've never done so before. I'd never have voted for Neil Kinnock but I feel a lot more comfortable with Tony Blair. I feel at home with him."

Warehouse operative Adrian Blick, 30, has wavered over voting for Labour but will now back them because he feels they have better policies on the NHS, schools and the jobless. "I think the result will be tight as some will change their mind at the last minute. But I will not. It just feels right to vote for Labour, we need a change."

For local government worker Craig Cotes, 37, backing New Labour is more anti-Conservative than pro-Mr Blair. "To be honest I think Tony Blair is a bit of a prat. But the country's in a rut and we need something new. I hope Labour proves me wrong." He liked some of the Liberal Democrat's policies but felt the party was "out of the running."

Toolmaker Andrew Osciak, 35, has been more and more impressed with Tony Blair who will win his vote. "I saw him on the party election broadcast when he was talking at home and he made a lot of sense."

He feels the Tories are split and not fully committed to winning and likes Labour's policies on education and especially training for young people.

Former sales consultant Susan Lovett, 38, is typical of many of those remaining with the Conservatives, believing the party is stronger on the core issue of the economy. "I just trust the Tories more."

She adds: "Perhaps if Tony Blair had been more willing to face the voters directly I would have looked at him with more respect."