Election '97: All change likely at pleasure beach

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Indy Politics
"Years ago, I would have been frightened to vote Labour as a businessman, but they definitely seem to have changed and are more friendly towards people running businesses - and they have got a good front man." Terry Gornall from the Ribble Valley Service Centre is typical of the swing to Labour in Lancashire.

But could a landslide happen here? A poll of 500 of our readers showed Labour well ahead in Lancashire, with 48 per cent saying they would vote Labour compared with 35 per cent in 1992. The Conservatives drew 18 per cent, down from 28 per cent, and the Liberal Democrats 12 per cent, unchanged. No journalist would bet his mortgage on a poll but it appears a true barometer of current local attitudes.

Helen Fletcher, 29, a director's secretary, voted Tory in 1992. This time she is not sure. "The Tories have not done too much for me, although my husband has been successful. However, I think maybe it is time for a change. I will wait until the last minute before making up my mind."

Mrs Fletcher lives in the South Ribble constituency of Robert Atkins, the former sports minister, cricket buff and boating friend of the Prime Minister, whose 15 per cent majority would be wiped out by the sort of swing we saw across the water in the Wirral South by-election in February.

The most winnable seat for Labour is Blackpool South, where sailing enthusiast Richard Booth is all at sea defending a 0.6 per cent Tory majority. With his roots firmly in rival Yorkshire and his seat eighth on the Labour hit list, Mr Booth looks set to spend more time helping the family businesses, which include fabric care and garment finishing (and perhaps a campaign suit of armour to measure).

No wonder incumbent Nick Hawkins hopped it to the safe seat of Surrey Heath. Labour has never won a seat in Blackpool - the proletariat is obviously made up of day-trippers. But this time they could win both of them.

The seat to watch, though, is Chorley, where Tory MP Den Dover is defending a 4 per cent majority. For the last 30 years, Chorley has been won by the party which won the general election. New Labour's weathervane candidate is Lindsay Hoyle, director of a printing company.

As for the Lib Dems, a 3 per cent swing to them would recapture Southport, which they lost in 1992. They are much less likely to win back Ribble Valley, surprisingly won in a 1991 by-election but lost in 1992 to Tory Nigel Evans.

The only crumb of comfort for local Tories is that sleaze is not an issue here. As we reported: "Lancashire Tories were today cock-a-hoop that all their forthcoming election candidates appear deadly dull." But the most interesting finding in our poll was that 46 per cent did not trust any of the three main parties. A warning there for all, perhaps?

Neil Hodgkinson Editor, Lancashire Evening Post