Major sends autographs flying like confetti

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Indy Politics
John Major yesterday said that Labour's lead in the opinion polls was "flaky". Standing on the dockside near Bristol he insisted the tide was turning against Tony Blair's New Labour Party.

"A change of atmosphere is becoming apparent everywhere, up and down the country. It is a while before it is reflected by the fashionable opinion formers," he said.

If autograph hunters decided the outcome, Mr Major would be home and dry. He handed out signatures like confetti at the Sovereign shopping mall in Weston-Super-Mare, Avon, when he went on a walkabout with his wife, Norma.

The John and Norma show was delayed for nearly two hours while Mrs Major visited the printers in Frome to get hold of the first copy of her latest book, a history of the Prime Minister's country residence, Chequers, to give to the Queen at Balmoral at the weekend.

But the shoppers waited patiently to meet the Prime Minister, emphasising that Mr Major and his soap box remain the Tory secret weapon. Few of the autograph hunters in the Tory constituency held by Jerry Wiggin appeared to be committed voters for the party. J

One housewife said she was going to vote Liberal Democrat having voted Conservative all her life: "I can't bring myself to vote Labour but voting Liberal Democrat is the only way I can protest."

The anecdotal evidence in some of the key marginals is that the Liberal Democrats may gain but they could be squeezed, helping the Tories, if enthusiasm grows for Mr Blair. At the moment there is little sign of that.

John and Norma signed T-shirts for two men who said they were from a local alcohol and drug rehabilitation unit. "I voted for Maggie Thatcher in 1979 and I am going to vote for Mr Major. It's always been that way," one said.

Emerging from the media scrum, Janet Lambard, a Green Party voter, said: "I don't agree with anything he says but I still respect him as Prime Minister. I would rather have him than Tony Blair."

Bill Gibson, 58, who runs a small gift shop on the front, said the Government had lost the support of the elderly who are a predominant force for the Tories in retirement resorts. "It's lack of action and lack of confidence," he said.

The demand for the Prime Minister's autograph raised the question why they wanted his signature if they were not going to vote Conservative? He is undoubtedly popular pressing the flesh but there may also be a shrewd market demand for his signature while stocks last.

Mr Major is learning trade craft before the camera crews and he refused to be interviewed squinting into the sunlight at a photo opportunity. There were rumours that he was suffering from a hangover after partying with local supporters. His aides insisted that he was given two painkillers for a different reason - he had a pain in the neck.