Election '97: Tories pin hopes on the army of floating voters

Strategists believe undecided voters will deliver their salvation
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The Independent Online
The undecided voters on whom John Major and Tory strategists are pinning their hopes - the army of "don't knows" - have been on every street where the Prime Minister has campaigned.

As varied in political allegi-ance as in social background, this group, accounting for perhaps a quarter of the electorate - according to the Tories - include those who have decided not to vote, some who will not tell pollsters how they intend to vote and a third group which has yet to come to a decision on how to vote on 1 May.

First-time voter Jill, a sixth- former at a state school near Birmingham, is undecided because she has never known a Labour government; she worries that Blair et al lack experience; she is impressed by Major, but is worried about disunity in his party.

Swampy man, 21, heckled Major ''what about sleaze?'' in a West Country shopping centre was pushed aside by police. Asked if he is old Labour, he replied: ''No, I'm just an old hippie.'' He has a single issue interest in the environment and lives in a squat, but did not ''get it together'' to go on the voters' registrar.

Young black man, 19, student at Luton University, watched Major on his walkabout and said the parties failed to represent his concerns and those of the ethnic communities. He felt excluded from the campaign by three predominantly white parties led by three white males in their 40s. He may not vote.

Gran, 70, was 52 when Margaret Thatcher came to power; she remembers Labour in office and will not vote for the party. She will not tell opinion pollsters how she will vote because ''it's a private matter''. She helped Major to victory in 1992 but is worried about selling her house to pay for long-term care.

Jeff, mid 40s, a frozen food wholesaler, in Eastleigh, Hants, a key marginal, says he is "betwixt and between" the Tories and Labour. he thinks Labour has become "more electable" but worries about "personalities" behind Blair. He feels it may be time for a change, but is wavering. Eastleigh was won from the Tories by the Liberal Democrats in the by-election.

Ruth, 49, a lone unemployed parent, is unimpressed by the Tory offer of a tax-break for families, for which she will not qualify; she is a past Tory voter, but is disillusioned in her search for a job; she feels she is being treated like a cipher. She will vote for the party that can help her find work and will make her mind up during the last days of the campaign.

John and his wife, Margaret, are "undecided - we want to be sure about the manifesto policies". They live in Croydon, and believe the economy is picking up, but "we are not too happy about the Consevatives breaking their promises on VAT on fuel". They have yet to be convinced by Labour. "Tony Blair is not saying much about his policies."