Tory MPs scent decay as Labour prepares hitlist

JOHN MAJOR toured the tea room at the House of Commons last night after Prime Minister's question time to reassure his troops that recovery was on the way.

He found morale holding remarkably firm in the face of the worst results since the Tories came to power.

But Tory MPs with marginal seats see the writing on the wall. 'The game is up,' one Tory backbencher said. 'There was a smell of decay about the Wilson-Callaghan government. We have got it now.

'When you have Blair saying he believes in the market economy and the Tory party is putting up taxes, you have complete blurring between the two sides. That is fatal for us.'

Labour shared that view. 'We are now winning back for the first time the seats in the new towns that went to the Tories when they fell in love with Mrs Thatcher,' said one Labour strategist. 'They are the Essex Man seats.'

Labour had an overall national swing of about 12 per cent, more than enough to sweep the Tories out of the top 25 Tory-Labour marginal seats, including Graham Bright, the Prime Minister's parliamentary aide; Michael Forsyth, the employment minister; Tom Sackville, junior health minister; and Giles Brandreth.

William Powell, the MP for Corby, seventh in the list with a 342 majority, was the first to call for Mr Major's immediate resignation after the European elections.

But there was surprisingly little sign of panic around the targeted Tories.

'I've had more farewells than Frank Sinatra. And the general election is nearly three years away,' said one Tory MP with a new-town marginal.

Seats on Labour's 'new towns' target list in the South include Stevenage, the seat of Tim Wood (majority 4,888), a Government whip; Harlow, Jerry Hayes (2,940); Crawley, Nicholas Soames, minister for food, (7,765); Slough, John Watts (514); and Basildon, David Amess (1,480), a totem in the Tory party because it marked the turning of the tide against Labour on election night in 1992.

Labour is targeting southern Tory seats with majorities of less than 5,000 where it is in second place. They include a swathe of seats across the south including: Dover, David Shaw (majority 833); Brighton Kemptown, Andrew Bowden (3,056); Brighton Pavilion, Sir Derek Spencer, Solicitor General (3,675); Plymouth Drake, Dame Janet Fookes (2,013); Swindon, Simon Coombs (2,826), and Southampton Test, James Hill (585).

The top 25 Tory-Labour marginals, which are being targeted by Labour (with majority as a percentage in brackets) are: Vale of Glamorgan (0.03 per cent), Hayes and Harlington (0.03), Bristol NW (0.08), Ayr (0.08), Bolton NE (0.38), Norwich N (0.51), Corby (0.6), Slough (0.89), Tynemouth (0.99), Southampton Test (1.04), Amber Valley (1.2), Edmonton (1.24), Luton South (1.38), Dover (1.45), Bury South (1.46), Stirling (1.47), Leices NW (1.57), Bolton W (1.81), Chester (2.07), Batley and Spen (2.31), Langbaurgh (2.37), Basildon (2.75), Coventry SW (2.82), Lincoln (3.28), and Mitcham and Morden (3.39).

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