Election '97: Low-key Major goes gently into final day

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The Independent Online
John Major held up a pound coin at a meeting with pensioners in Brighton and, for a moment, it looked as though he was about to play the Tories' ace card to win the election.

The Harry Preston Room, its silver flock wallpaper and its candle lights, in the Albion Hotel on the seafront, would be made the place of homage for generations of Eurosceptics as the place where John Major won the election by promising to save the pound.

Instead, Mr Major was talking about inflation. It was a message which connected well with his pensioner audience who recalled Harold Wilson's claims about the "pound in your pocket".

But it fell short of the final stand some of the old soldiers in the room were thirsting for.

They included George Cornwell, 76, still sporting a Wessex blue regimental tie, who said: "We have drawn the line a little bit too late about not going into a Federal Europe."

Mr Major charmed his audience of elderly supporters as he has done throughout the six weeks of his, at times, solitary and single-minded campaign.

It was his decision to spend the vital last day of his campaign speaking to pensioners in a resort on the south coast. He wanted to refute Labour's allegations that a Tory fifth term would herald the end of the state pension.

Growing passionate for a final attack on Tony Blair, he accused the Labour leader and his party of "truly stepping into the gutters" with a "cold blooded and carefully calculated campaign to terrify old people."

It was, however, a low key finish to a campaign that has taken Mr Major from his soapbox in Luton to the four corners of the United Kingdom in an attempt to stop the British electorate from deciding that it is time for a change and bringing the curtain down on 18 years of Tory rule.

It was also a strange place to do so. It was around the corner from the Grand Hotel where his predecessor, Lady Thatcher, and members of her Cabinet were nearly blown up by the IRA.

Dylan Thomas wrote about his dying father: "Do not go gentle into that good night; old age should burn and rave at close of day; rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Mr Major seemed to be going out with the winter, meeting pensioners in a hotel in Geriatrica-by-the-Sea to reassure them about pensions.

He went on a bizarre walkabout in East Street, Brighton, where he carefully avoided the risk of being photgraphed outside a Reject Shop.