Election `97: Cautious minds clouded by deep-rooted suspicion

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Indy Politics
A cautious reaction to a cautious manifesto. Tony Blair's "covenant" with the people earned a mixed reception in Mondeo Land yesterday, the swathe of country across the central regions of England where new Labour has to pick up one-time Thatcherite voters to win the election.

His plea for "honest politics" struck a chord with some of The Independent's group of disaffected Tory voters in Redditch and the modest Labour manifesto seemed to catch the mood better than the Tories' last-minute clutch of new policies.

For these voters, the tedium is the message. But there was still deep scepticism about the Labour pledge not to raise headline tax rates and doubts that Mr Blair's vision of honest politics could survive under the pressures of office.

Lionel Baird, 52, a paramedic, who is likely to switch to new Labour, found the manifesto's caution "refreshing". He said: "It's better to have some honesty rather than politicians letting things go by the board when in power, saying `that's not quite what we meant'." However, he had reservations about how even the modest proposals could be financed.

Mark Redfearn, 29, an engineer and another likely switcher, saw the tone of the Labour document as a welcome change, applauding its emphasis on education: "The most important thing for us is getting our two children a decent education." He found Mr Blair trustworthy, but added: "You have to be wary of all politicians."

For former British gas manager Roger Frost, the main virtue was the lack of bold promises. "I think [politicians] have got a lot of bridges to build with the public. A lot of people I speak to say they wouldn't buy a second hand car from a politician."

But for Susan Lovett, 38, a sales consultant now looking after her two young children at home, the manifesto's "vagueness" was ominous. "Mr Blair has left out more than he has put in. Where is the money going to come from?"

Supermarket worker Denise Sparkes, 35, also queried how Labour would fund its proposals and found "no great vision" to attract her.

Steven Marriott, 28, a radio engineer, is still undecided after the two main manifestos and believes both Tony Blair and John Major are avoiding hard truths, neatly reflecting the views of Paddy Ashdown's at yesterday's Liberal Democrat manifesto launch. "They are going to have to put up taxes to do what they say, and they are being dishonest with us about that," said Mr Marriott.

He was unsure whether to trust Mr Blair, adding: "You don't know what they're like until they get in power."

The likely impact of power on Mr Blair also concerned toolmaker Andrew Osciak, 45, who said: "They all change, don't they?" But he thought the Labour leader had shown himself tougher and more convincing than Mr Major and liked Mr Blair's emphasis on jobs and education.