Mad cow debate wasted on voters

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Labour's attempt last night to censure the Government over the BSE crisis - and possibly force an early general election - left voters in Wirrall 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 Wirrall 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. I cannot see the point of this kind of vote, it's a bit of a waste of time."

Another Labour supporter Graeme Dring, 24, said the censure 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 Commons 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".

Although the semi-rural Wirrall South constituency is home to a handful of farmers, it is essentially a commuter belt and industrial area where voters tend to see the BSE crisis as an agricultural issue remote from them. Audrey Johnson, 69, a retired nurse and Tory supporter, said: "Farmers may be interested in the vote, but it will not impress the general public here."

Services manager Les Harris, 43, a former Conservative voters who is now undecided, said the BSE crisis stretched back many years and was not a central issue for voters. "The main issue for me is the state of the health service ..."

There was some sympathy for Labour's attempt to bring Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, and his ministerial colleagues to account. Dawn Owen, 59, said: "It's about time someone had a go, though it's a bit late in the day."

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."