Election '97: Tories close gap on Labour as voters confound the polls

Message from The Independent's survey of six important constituencies is that a landslide for Tony Blair is unlikely as the Conservative vote refuses to collapse: EALING NORTH: Labour victory would give Commons majority of around 60
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Time for a change was a recurring theme on the streets in Ealing North, but having asked themselves "a change to what?", Tory voters appeared to be settling for the Tory Party. One said: "Better the devil you know."

The appeal of John Major was a recurring theme; a worrying factor for Labour was that many Tory voters did not seem to trust Tony Blair. One said: "It's his grin"; and a Labour supporter said: "I don't trust him on Europe." That suggests the Tory personal attack on Mr Blair may be hitting the target, in spite of being criticised as puerile. However, many expressed concern at the "tit-for-tat" nature of the campaign; voters generally are not enthusiastic about the election.

One of the prime areas for Labour converts from the Tory Party was said to be Pitshanger, a strip of the former Ealing Acton seat, which has been brought into the constituency in boundary changes.

Knocking on doors in the area which includes the leafy street where Neil Kinnock lives, and interviewing passers-by failed to throw up firm "switchers" to Labour. The Tory vote appeared to be holding up.

Standing outside the railway station at Northolt, and the Underground at Greenford produced a similar story. The Tory vote was remaining fairly solid, and showing no enthusiasm for new Labour. Of the two leaders, Mr Major - on the morning after his party election broadcast on Europe - was emerging as the stronger, even with some Labour voters. One elderly Labour supporter said: "I voted Labour last time. I just wish John Major was not a Tory. He is the best of the lot. The rest all seem wishy-washy."

The high street in Perivale was the same. Voters appear now to have made up their minds, and the Tory vote appears to be hardening after two weeks of campaigning on the issues.

The west London constituency is number 87 in the list of seats which are vulnerable in a general swing to Labour, but it is not on the party's "target list" of 90 seats.

This may seem surprising. Ealing North was a Labour seat until Bill Molloy, now Lord Molloy, was beaten in 1979 by the Tory Harry Greenway, the outspoken right-wing former headmaster, who has since made it his own patch. Mr Greenway, an ardent admirer of Baroness Thatcher, has been assiduous in building up a local following, working Ealing North like a councillor.

That personal following is one of the reasons why - in spite of a spirited fight by local activists - it is not being given the target list treatment by Labour. "We have moved the key people somewhere else, into target seats," a party official said.

The Labour campaign is being run from a private house and the Labour candidate, Steve Pound, a wisecracking Labour councillor from Ealing borough, is backed by his wife, and a team of enthusiastic amateurs. He is confident that they will pull it off. "We are getting lots of inquiries from people switching from the Tories," said one of his workers. "They are calling up asking for the manifesto."

Roger Edwards, 52

Runs vehicle restoration business

Mr Edwards is sticking with the Tories.

"I will probably vote Tory because of Harry Greenway. I shall vote Tory because I remember the last Labour government.

"It strikes me that the economy is quite good because we have made it as such. All they [Labour] can do is take more money off us.

"I think I can trust John Major and his policies."

Rupa Patel, 22

Student, serving in the family newsagents at Northolt Station

A first-time voter, will vote Labour.

"I was a Conservative. I went to a public school and the ideology was that you vote Conservative because they wanted to keep the private schools.

"But I am concerned about education.

"I was extremely annoyed about the government's decision to reduce student grants by 30 per cent.

"I think they will have Harry Greenway again purely because they have done so for so long.

"Really, I don't trust any of the parties."

Pamela Shrewsbury, 48

Solicitor

Was a Conservative, is thinking of switching, but is a "don't know" at the moment.

"I am still listening to everybody. I have voted Conservative in the past. My father was once interviewed as a Tory candidate. I am not totally settled on how I will vote. I am very unhappy about party politics. I don't like party systems. I don't quite take to Blair, and I don't know why.

"Major appeals more to working people because he comes from an ordinary background and he conducts himself very well and honourably."

Fiona Cook, 43, self-employed

She is sticking with the Tories. "The more it is going on, the longer this election is running, the less Labour is doing to get my vote, basically because I think Tony Blair is a megalomaniac.

"He is so full of himself, he is on an ego trip. I am getting fed up with him. All he is saying is that the Tories will do this, and they will do the opposite. I am self-employed, and the thought of Labour getting in is quite frightening."

John Roberts, 63

Retired tobacco worker

Mr Roberts, a Geordie, is voting Conservative again.

"My father was a miner. I have done mining. I will definitely not be voting Labour for the simple fact that I know about them through the years. I don't trust them. Blair is just boy wonder.

"I cannot understanding people being taken in by him. I saw Major on the election broadcast last night [on Europe] and thought he was good. I think this is the most important issue."

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