Election '97: Kissable Tony brings a little spice to town

John Walsh mingles with Blair's enthusiastic fans in Monmouth
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The Independent Online
Outside the Punch House, a charming ancient pub in cobbled Agincourt Square, the Monmouth Spice Girls were getting excited.

Kelly, Ceri, Michelle, Sheryl and Catherine had all shamelessly bunked off Maths at Monmouth's Comprehensive to clap eyes on Tony Blair. Why? "cos he's sexy," ventured Sheryl. "I am going to vote Labour," said Kelly, who is 18 and a little madam, "because they're going to help the poor and do more for young people. The Conservatives just help rich people. This world needs a change," she ended ringingly. Someone wondered if the Labour boss would kiss the baby in the red, straw hat. "I wish he'd kiss me," breathed Ceri (16 and a bit of a minx).

The kissable Tony was in Monmouth to support Huw Edwards, who lost to the Tories in 1992 by 3,200 votes. His rival, Roger Evans, (now Junior Minister for Social Security) swiftly became the day's pantomime villain. As Blair fans with placards surged outside the pub and the photographers mounted their familiar barricade, a dark blue Volvo purred up and down the street; from its dim interior Evans' plumy monotone taunted the crowd. "WHAT U-TURNS WILL LABOUR PERFORM NOW?" The car's loudspeaker rudely inquired. "ARE YOU ALLOWED TO ASK QUESTIONS OR IS THIS JUST ANOTHER PHOTO OPPORTUNITY?" The crowd booed, except for a trio of Tory ladies with blue rosettes and seats on the local council.

On the wall behind the snappers stood a statue of Henry V, who was born in Monmouth in 1387. Given his looming presence and the fact that we were in Agincourt Square, it was tempting to look for parallels: Mr Blair as Hal, super-patriot and God-annointed sovereign. Calling the Might of England to his side against the, er, French? No, that won't do. John Prescott as Sir John Falstaff, hard-drinking embodiment of old values, now fallen on hard times? Ron Davies, the shadow Welsh secretary (who was there) as Fluellen? There was, however, no need to look for an enemy to fight when you had Mr Evans ("WE SEEM TO BE WAITING AN EXTREMELY LONG TIME. I CAN'T IMAGINE WHAT FOR. THREE CHEERS FOR JOHN MAJOR") volunteering for the part.

Tony and Cherie arrive, beaming and waving. Mrs Blair betrays no trace of nerves at these events, gaily telling a black law student "gimme a call some time," when his mini-pupillage is over.

The baby in the straw hat (Molly Angharad Williams, 10 months) was proferred, but Tony declined to kiss her. He'd made a fine speech this morning about the "seven killers of a decent society", full of unusually concrete notions, but its rightful place in the news headlines had been gazumped by yet more tales of Tory disunity. He was clearly a little pissed off by this.

"MRFFWHWLLGG BARRAWHYLLGOGOGOCH," intoned the unseen Mr Evans from further up the road. Either he was speaking in Welsh or his megaphone had been spin-doctored. "I'm delighted to see you, Mr Evans," said Blair, pleased to have even an incomprehensible heckler, "and I shall be even more delighted to wave you bye bye". Mr Evans honks off back to his lair.

There's such an air of supremacy about the Labour leader now, all jutting chin and balled fists, you believe him capable of anything - going 10 rounds with Lennox Lewis, invading a neutral country. And perhaps it was the stone salute of Henry V over his head that inspired him to a peroration ("No more division ... but a smooth unified one nation, a country that will look forward together with confidence. We can do it, for Britain, for Wales, for all our people").

Wild cheers.Two of the taff Spices were grilled about their views before Mr Blair sadly concluded, "you're not really very interested in politics, are you? Well, there's plenty of time."

The girls turned to the crowd, adoration shining in their eyes. "That was cracking!" they said. And it was.

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