Election '97: The job done, Major heads home to wait

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The Independent Online
Back in the bosom of his constituency yesterday after six gruelling weeks on the campaign trail, John Major spent possibly his last day as Prime Minister visiting the party faithful in Huntingdon, the place where he began his journey to Downing Street.

On a whirlwind tour of his home territory, he exuded confidence and good humour. Perhaps he was relieved that it was all over bar the voting, or perhaps he was contemplating the virtues of a quieter life. Certainly, he looked nothing like a man facing a rendezvous with defeat.

Mr Major had woken up to find the fields opposite his home bathed in sunshine. Posters bearing his name bopped in the hedgerows.

The weather was "a good omen for democracy," he said later, adding there were signs of an exceptionally high local turnout.

After casting his vote at the village hall in Great Stukeley, about half a mile from his house, he pronounced himself "entirely relaxed" as he posed for photographs with his wife, Norma, and Lord Archer of Weston- super-Mare, who had earlier joined them for breakfast.

"We've had the political debate during the campaign, now it's up to people to make up their minds," he said.

"I think everyone has done their best to get the message across. There's a lot at stake, there's a lot at risk."

By mid-morning, Mr Major was wilting in the heat. Visiting the home of his constituency chairwoman, Sophie Clegg, to thank party workers for their efforts, he discarded his suit jacket with visible relief.

On this most testing of days, the Prime Minister did not need to trouble himself at least with the outcome in his own seat. At the previous election he had the largest Conservative majority in the country, 36,230. This is a constituency of picturesque villages which could easily have inspired Mr Major's nostalgic vision of a Middle England of warm beer and cricket pitches.

On a brief stopover in Wyton, there were small children to pose with; in Hemingford Abbots, a 102-year-old woman complete with blue suit who had voted at every election since 1928 - Tory every time, naturally.

After the clashes with Labour activists in Stevenage the previous day, Huntingdon was a dream for Mr Major's minders. "This is how a walkabout should be - dead easy," one of them muttered as adoring supporters crowded round to wish Mr Major luck.

Lord Archer hung about in the background looking disconsolate. Asked about the prospects of a Conservative victory, he replied: "We pray, but I refuse to get optimistic."

Mr Major was planning to spend the afternoon at home. All that remained was to wait for the votes to be cast and counted, and to hope that the pollsters could yet be confounded.