Election '97: King of Hay switches his allegiance

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Labour received a royal endorsement in one of Britain's key three-way marginals yesterday. The seal of approval - a 20ft x 10ft red rose banner was unfurled at Hay Castle, the 17th-century home of Richard Booth, self- styled King of Hay, whose dedication to the printed word has made Hay- on-Wye the second-hand books capital of the world.

At the 1992 election Mr Booth endorsed the Tory party. Five years on, his palatial castle is surrounded by banners urging support for Chris Mann, Labour's candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire. Ron Davies the party's Welsh spokesman, unrolled the yellow and red banner from a top-floor window.

"It is very significant that someone as influential as Mr Booth who has put the town on the map should be supporting Labour with as much energy as he put in building up a global business," Mr Davies said.

Market day crowds in the town's narrow streets appeared impressed. Peter Smith, a trainee psychologist who was browsing in the Honesty Bookshop, said: "If you want a Labour government then you have to vote Labour, especially here where a Liberal vote is just a waste because the Liberals will never be in government. I want the Tories out so it's clear where my cross will be put.

At 74, Emma Jones is still at work as warden of an old people's home. She said: "The state pension's not enough so I'm still at work. When the Tories broke the link between earnings and pensions they insulted people who worked hard all their lives."

Brecon and Radnorshire is a vast tract stretching from the old mining town of Ystradgynlais in the south, to Knighton 60 miles away in the north, a town so close to the English border that the train station is in Shropshire. The constituency is being fought for with few holds barred. John Major made it his only visit to Wales earlier this week to support Jonathan Evans, a junior Welsh Office minister,who scraped in by 130 votes in 1992.

Richard Livsey, a 61-year-old farmer and lecturer is flying the Liberal Democrat flag again. For Labour, Mr Mann, 46, and a probation officer is contesting the seat for a second time.

The Referendum Party is fielding Liz Phillips, a local community councillor. At 21, Plaid Cymru's Steven Cornelius claims to be the youngest candidate in Britain. Both will do well if they save their deposits.