James Purvis has lost his job and his faith in politicians. But he's hanging on to the Sierra

For Tony Blair, Sierra Man is a vitally important voter. So what's on his mind?
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The Independent Online
In The gallery of British politics, Essex Man and Little Englander have a new neighbour - Sierra Man. Tony Blair introduced him to us at Labour's party conference in Blackpool, with a tale from the campaign trail of 1992.

"I met a man polishing his Ford Sierra," Mr Blair said. "His dad voted Labour, he said. He used to vote Labour, too. But he'd bought his own house now. He was doing very nicely. 'So I've become a Tory,' he said.

"That man polishing his car was clear. His instincts were to get on in life. And he thought our instincts were to stop him."

Nobody has managed to find Mr Blair's man, despite a Daily Mail competition to track him down. Perhaps he never existed. But as an account of why Mr Blair will be canvassing for New Labour this time, it tells us everything. His belief in the Sierra drivers of 1992 is absolute. But he might be well-advised to make their acquaintance again.

James Purvis, a softly spoken Geordie about to enter his sixties, founded the Ford Sierra Drivers' Club in 1988. He had always loved transport - cars, lorries, the lot - and worked on the buses from the age of 16. When the Ford Sierra made its first appearance at the Paris Motor Show in 1982, he fell in love.

"I just went Sierra nuts. At work everybody took the mickey and called me Mr Sierra, but I just love them. It's the shape. The shape of the dashboard. The look of the whole car.

"I tell you, it's the only car that goes across the whole board. You've got housewives driving it, bank managers, dustbin men, policemen. And wherever there were Sierras, I went."

Sierra drivers would join MrPurvis's club, and receive his monthly magazine, with advice on how to get the most out of their Sierra, where to buy parts, and so on.

He produced the magazine himself from his home in Romford, Essex, borrowing heavily to finance it, and made T-shirts and key rings. On Sundays he would drive all around the South-east, taking pictures of particularly beautiful Sierras. He would then send the owners a pounds 20 voucher, which they could use on a service at an authorised Ford dealer; Mr Purvis reimbursed the dealers himself. "That way, you knew that Sierras were being kept well."

By 1992, the club had more than 600 members. Enthusiasts would ring up, and they would talk for hours. Mr Purvis was working as a bus inspector with London Transport - "I had done 16 years for them, and I thought, well, that's me for life here." Then he was made redundant.

"I was too old for another transport job. But I thought, I know photography. The Government said you could get training, so the very first time I went in to sign on, I asked to be trained so I could set myself up as a photographer, doing weddings.

"They said yes, but they messed me around for two years, and then the college I was to go to closed down."

Eventually, he found himself a course in Southend, but he was then told that if he continued his studies his benefits would cease. So he found himself another course, just one day a week, but then his day for signing on was changed, and he had to stop.

"When I got my redun- dancy money, I thought, I can buy a Cosworth and to hell with it. I went to see one for sale for pounds 13,000. I stood beside it and thought, this is me, this is my dream."

But he bought a GLS model instead, and spent his money on photographic equipment. He can only afford to take the car out once a month, and has bought a bicycle for pounds 2 from a car-boot sale to get about on to look for work as a photographer. He had to close down the Sierra Drivers' Club, as he could no longer afford the costs.

"They said they would train me to be a security guard. But I'm not a security guard. What good am I at that? If someone went for my ribs, I'd run away. If they would just have spent the money to get me trained, I would've been away, out of their hair.

"I had a career, and then they took it away from me. All I want is another one."

Mr Purvis has tried all kinds of things to make his plight known. He has written to his Conservative MP, to John Major and to Tony Blair. He has written to Peter Lilley, asking him to come on a local radio station to explain to him why he will not give him the pounds 500 it would cost for the training course he needs to set himself up. Mr Lilley has not replied.

"So I'm back to square one. And now with the jobseeker's allowance, they're going to force me to be a security guard or something.

"All this bumf about the people on the dole and the Government trying to get them off it - it's the Government trying to keep them on. The whole thing is a sham."

Mr Purvis is worried that the Benefits Agency may force him to sell his Sierra. He is still trying to become a photographer, but if he did set himself up in business he would have nothing to drive around in. "I still treat it like new. I live alone, you see, and it's my only real friend."

Mr Purvis will not be voting Conservative at the next election. He never has. Will he be voting for Tony Blair's New Labour?

"I wrote to Tony Blair. Eventually I got a note back from someone else. It said, 'Tony Blair is sorry to hear you are unemployed. He wishes you the best of luck.'

"I walk around, and I feel like I'm invisible. Nobody sees me. I just don't think any of them MPs know what it's really like. To be honest, I don't think I'll be voting for any of them."

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