Election '97: Mood of change threatens Tory fightback

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: Tamworth
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The Independent Online
Twelve months ago New Labour won a crushing victory over the Conservatives in the South East Staffordshire by-election. On Thursday the party seems certain to repeat the win in the re-drawn seat of Tamworth - though by a reduced margin - according to a survey of former Conservative voters.

Out of 15 people who voted Tory in recent General Elections, three said that they would definitely vote Labour, six will stay with the Conservatives, and the others are undecided. The mood of change, coupled with signs of tactical voting, indicates that New Labour will comfortably achieve the 5.2 per cent swing it needs based on the 1992 result.

The Liberal Democrats may have won the moral arguments in many voters' eyes but will pick up fewer votes; as one woman put it: "In the end the choice is between red or blue."

Among the switchers the mood is more a protest against the last 18 years than enthusiasm for Tony Blair.

Businessman Tony Bishop, 51, believes the Government has run out of steam and is voting Labour for the first time. "They've had 18 years in office and if they've not done what they wanted they've wasted their time," he said. "Labour are untried and I'm a little nervous. But it's the only option I can see."

Civil servant Hanora Orme, another switcher, is worried about the right wing taking over. "Having been in for so long they are bringing in extreme measures. New Labour seem more middle of the road, how the Tories used to be."

Garth Thomas, 57, is a "cradle Conservative" who will now vote Labour. Self-employed, he was forced to give up one business through ill health - and feels the Conservatives have forgotten those who earn less than the average national wage.

Former Conservative voter Linda Chetwind, 47, is put off by the negative election campaign. She has real concerns over the state of the NHS but is still confused about whom to support. "Half of me says that I know where I am with the Conservatives, but I think I will probably vote Labour."

John Thomas, 54, will decide at the last minute. He rates Paddy Ashdown's intelligence and honesty but says his party has no chance of winning. After voting Conservative at three general elections Mr Thomas believes Tony Blair should probably be given a chance.

Carole Kelly, 48, is too torn between the main parties to make a decision yet but when pressed says she will probably take the "safer" option of voting Conservative again.

Europe is the main worry for some older voters. Stanley Lang, 80, will switch from the Tories to the Referendum Party: "I want to be independent from Europe," he says.

Ominously for the Conservatives some non-Tories may vote tactically. Liberal Democrat supporter Karen Gray, 29, a local government worker, was quite blunt. "I'm voting Labour because they have a better chance of winning than the Liberal Democrats here."