Election '97: Pledges fail to woo disaffected Tories

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The Opposition party's insistent message that the Conservatives cannot be trusted over their election promises is echoed by voters in key marginal seats, according to The Independent's focus group of disaffected Tory supporters.

Among the voters in Redditch, home of so-called Mondeo Man, the Thatcherite Tories whom Labour is trying to win over, there is doubt whether John Major's party could keep its promise to switch personal tax allowances between spouses looking after dependants. Some fear that even if such a plan was put into action, it would be paid for by simply shifting the burden of taxation elsewhere. Warehouse worker Adrian Blick, 30, and his partner, Lisa, are not married but say in any case the estimated pounds 18 a week the allowance might bring would provide scant comfort on their tight budgetary margins.

"We need our two wages just to pay the mortgage and the other bills," said Mr Blick, who is now determined to vote Labour. "And the money is going to come from somewhere. I can't see this being much of an encouragement to anyone."

Radio frequency engineer Steven Marriott said the allowance held few attractions for him and his wife and he will wait until all the manifestos are published before deciding which party to vote for. He added: "I'm more interested in working to get good job prospects. They [the Tories] are just chasing votes like they did before over tax cuts. I'm not sure I believe them."

The reaction from Mark Redfern, 29, an engineer, was equally sceptical. "If they really did this, it would be quite good for some people. But they let me down last time over taxes. And where is the money going to come from? They would just tax me more; it would not benefit us. John Major says he wants to talk about the real issues but the issue is that he has lied to people."

Former British Gas travel manager, Roger Frost, 54, dismissed the Tory manifesto proposal as a "gimmick". He said: "They have had 18 years and they could have done this years ago. Why now?" Toolmaker Andrew Osciak, 45, said the Tory manifesto offered little new and welcomed Labour's plans to improve deprived schools, but believes the issue was about leadership. "John Major is okay but weak, in my mind Tony Blair is stronger."

Even among those considering voting Conservative again, there was limited enthusiasm for the tax alliance. For Denise Sparkes, 35, who works in a supermarket and is a dressmaker, the main concern is nursery education. She said: "It sounds attractive but I would still have to go to work. I have two children and another on the way."

David Bignall, a former British Telecom engineer, wondered how the new scheme would be financed. "Everyone will think they are doing it just because of the election." He applauded the strength of the economy, which is the main reason why he wants to vote Conservative again and says his only real concern about the Tories is over sleaze. "They seem to keep shooting themselves in the foot. But I suppose we have to look further than people's private lives, and look at politics as a whole."

However, there was some comfort for John Major from Susan Lovett, 38, a former sales consultant who now stays at home to look after her two children. Mrs Lovett said: "It [the tax allowance proposal] is an excellent idea. There are a lot of women in my position looking after children at home."

She said it would make her even more likely to vote for the Tories again. "What concerns me about Labour, is that they are not answering direct questions," Mrs Lovett said and regrets how much sleaze had dominated the campaign so far. "It's a pity that we have not really got down to the main issues."