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The Government in Crisis: Basildon signals swing to disillusion among voters: Essex man's confidence in John Major has been damaged. Kathy Marks visits a key marginal

DAVID AMESS'S fanatical enthusiasm for Basildon, the Essex town he represents in the House of Commons, is the subject of much mirth at Westminster, even among his Tory colleagues.

'You have the most famous constituents in the western world,' John Major told him in the Commons yesterday after he managed to mention Basildon twice during a question about mortgage interest rates.

It is doubtful whether the famous constituents of this key marginal would return any sort of compliment to the Prime Minister at the moment.

In the town which signalled Labour's general election defeat by confounding the pundits to remain Conservative, Tory party workers and ordinary voters are disillusioned.

'We were thrilled to win the election and we expected John Major to lead us into a time of prosperity,' Stuart Allen, chairman of the Basildon Conservative Association, said yesterday. 'Now the euphoria has passed and we are extremely disappointed with the Government's performance.

'People are perplexed by what the Prime Minister is doing. His political naivety in not realising the effect of closing 31 pits is quite beyond belief.'

Stan Blackbourn, the constituency treasurer, said: 'Interest rates are starting to come down, and the promise of capital investment is very encouraging, but the Government has been lax in not tackling economic problems much sooner.' Party workers believe that Basildon would remain Tory if another election were called because of Mr Amess's popularity. But the continuing rise in unemployment is of great concern in a town where unemployment has doubled over the past two years.

Commuters stepping off the train from London last night and heading off into the gloom were scathing about the Government's performance. Stephen Howell, a City dealer and Tory voter, said: 'I believe in strong leadership in every walk of life and that is something which we are not getting at the moment. There is no way I would vote for John Major again.'

David Walsh, a Conservative county councillor in the town, said many grassroots supporters felt that the Prime Minister was obsessed with Europe to the detriment of more pressing economic problems. 'He has lost the respect of a hell of a lot of voters,' he said. 'We need a change at the top.'