Election '97: Majorities crumble all across West Midlands

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The Independent Online
The West Midlands gave Tony Blair a huge vote of confidence as large Conservative majorities crumbled in the Birmingham seats of Edgbaston and Hall Green and in Wolverhampton South West.

Nicholas Budgen, the Conservative Euro-rebel, lost his Wolverhampton seat to Labour's Jenny Jones, the director of a management consultancy, as his 5,900 majority was turned into a 5,198 majority for Labour.

In Edgbaston, where Dame Jill Knight stood down after more than 30 years as the constituency MP, Labour's Gisela Stuart won with a 5,000 majority. Labour has never previously held the seat.

In Hall Green, the defending candidate Andrew Hargreaves' 3,660 majority was overturned by a 14 per cent swing to Labour. The constituency's new MP will be Stephen McCabe, a senior Birmingham councillor, who won with a resounding 4,842 majority.

Edgbaston, a suburban middle-class seat in west Birmingham, will now be represented by a local law lecturer who stole the seat from the Conservative candidate Andrew Marshall, a Cambridge-educated public relations director.

The seat, dubbed Birmingham's Basildon, was number 67 on Labour's hit- list. But the size of the swing will elate party managers who were privately predicting a much smaller gain.

A delighted Ms Stuart, said:"I want to thank the people of Edgbaston for giving me the chance to be their first-ever Labour member of parliament."

The loss of the seat may also signal the desertion of much of Middle England from the Conservatives. Edgbaston holds the tenth largest proportion of professional workers in the country. The shift to Tony Blair is even more astounding given that Conservative councillors were elected - against the grain - in the 1996 local elections.

The New Labour message seems to have sunk into the leafy suburbs of Edgbaston - home of the cricket ground and Birmingham University.

It had been the home of Dame Jill Knight, a staunch party loyalist elected in 1966, who had a considerable personal vote. The turn-out was 68 per cent.

Ms Stuart, the new member, was born in Germany and selected from an all-women shortlist and is described as "newish Labour" by party workers.

Mr Budgen, who will be replaced by Ms Jones in Wolverhampton South West, took over the seat from Enoch Powell. He supported Mr Powell's views on Europe, and in November 1994 he had the whip removed for five months after abstaining on a vote to approve increased British contributions to the EC budget. He once famously described Margaret Thatcher as "half mad."

Mr Hargreaves, who has lost his Hall Green seat, had been MP for the constituency since 1987. An Eton-educated former merchant banker, he backed John Redwood's candidature for the Conservative Party leadership in 1995.