Local Elections: Mr Nice Guy avoids risks on campaign trail: Stephen Ward found the Prime Minister in polite form on a visit to the Second City

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Indy Politics
JOHN MAJOR is a polite man. 'How very nice to see you,' he told each of the directors of Betterware, a thriving household goods company, during a visit to Birmingham yesterday.

The firm was showing him a new warehouse built to support its growing army of several thousand door-to-door kitchen and home-ware salespeople. His visit to Birmingham, billed in advance as the Prime Minister taking his soap box to the country on the local election campaign trail, was actually structured to avoid risk.

There were no members of the public when he visited the new warehouse in Castle Vale at 10.15am, because the trip had been kept secret.

Half an hour later, having seen the warehouse, he stopped again, and explained how much he supported the Nato air strikes. Then, for about 30 seconds, he gave the only speech he was to make in public all day on the elections. 'People seem to think the local elections only concern national personalities. I certainly don't share that view. Decisions taken locally are as vital to people's lives as any decisions taken by central government.'

He thought that the Tories had a good chance of winning Birmingham next month. The party was going to fight very hard. 'It is one of the great cities of Europe, never mind the UK,' he smiled.

Then it was a fast car ride out of the city to open Metcut 94, the international exhibition of metal-cutting machine tools, at the National Exhibition Centre. 'How very nice to see you,' he said to Stan Vaughan, president of the Machine Tool Technologies Association.

As Mr Major was whisked around Metcut 94, a man in a grey suit pointed at a fiftyish man in a black suit hurrying past blinking. 'There goes the man you elected,' said the man in the grey suit to his companions, and they burst out laughing. But Mr Major was in no danger of hearing anything unscripted like that. He quickly visited six stands, surrounded not only by his usual security, but by eight in- house National Exhibition Centre guards wearing replica police uniforms.

In any case, everybody talked about machine tools, nobody mentioned politics. He awarded a silver salver and cheque for pounds 3,000 to a grammar school which had won a design competition, made a brief speech about industry, and hurried back to his Daimler to go to attend a private lunch in the city for some business awards. He had his first and only contact with the public by telephone on BBC local radio. Inga Walker, from Great Barr, gave him the hardest time. She was a Tory, but was finding it impossible to canvass for her local candidate, because all anybody would talk about on the doorstep was Mr Major. 'Why won't you stand up for yourself?' she asked.

He said he wasn't happy standing up saying how good he was. He would rather let people judge his record over the long term. Mrs Walker was unconvinced.

When the Birmingham Evening Mail hit the streets it became clear what the party meant by Mr Major hitting the campaign trail. He had given the paper an embargoed interview timed to coincide with his visit, announcing he was giving pounds 10m towards a network of supertrams for the city.

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