Mad cow debate fails to impress voters in Wirral

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The prospect of Labour's failed attempt last night to censure the Government over the BSE crisis left voters in Wirral South unimpressed, unexcited and more disillusioned than ever with politicians.

As political heavyweights such as Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, and the Shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown, trundled around the constituency seeking votes for the crucial by-election on 27 February, The Independent interviewed voters on their views of the mad cow debate.

Even Labour voters desperate to overturn the Conservative majority of more than 8,000 in Wirral South and to see a change of government, dismissed the vote as political "game-playing".

Dave Moss, a researcher with locally-based Unilever, who will vote Labour, said: "It [the vote] should have taken place six or nine months ago. Labour are playing politics."

Marion Small, 42, from Bebington, and a Labour stalwart, said there were other issues that needed more urgent attention and the vote was "a bit of a waste of time". Another Labour supporter, Graeme Dring, 24, said the vote had little relevance so close to a general election. "It's a little late in the game as far as John Major's career is concerned."

Some Labour supporters even doubted whether there was much point in bringing forward a general election which was so close anyway. Leslie Simmons, 76, a retired factory worker, said: "I think we should just wait for the general election. A few more months is not going to make much difference."

For him, the vote was further evidence of the remoteness of party politicians. "What goes on in Westminster does not mean anything to people in general. They don't represent working people."

Indifference to the latest round of Westminster mud-wrestling did not, however, disguise anger at the Government over the BSE affair. George Newton, 71, who says he will not be voting Tory again, said: "The Government has slipped up very badly over this issue." Welder Roy Coyle, 51, who says he will not vote Conservative, but is likewise not keen on Tony Blair, described the Government's attitude to the health scare as "disgraceful".

Paradoxically, although most people interviewed were indifferent to the censure debate, there was limited support for the ultimate aim of producing an early general election. Nursery worker Clare Hughes, 26, a disgruntled Tory, said: "The sooner this country has a general election the better. At the moment we don't seem to be going anywhere."

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