The Government in Crisis: Discontent grows in sceptical Luton: Mike Durham met some Tory grassroots critics of an 'indecisive' government

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The Independent Online
CONSERVATIVES in Luton are deeply sceptical about the game of politics. 'A prime minister is like the manager of a football team - while he's doing a good job he should stay, but when he's not he should get the sack,' Michael Flint, a prominent local Tory, said. 'John Major is not doing a good job at the moment.'

A significant number of local Conservatives share Mr Flint's views. Although not all agree that he should look for a transfer there is widespread discontent at the Government's handling of affairs.

Luton is a microcosm of Conservative opinion. There are two parliamentary seats. Luton South is held by Graham Bright, John Major's Parliamentary Private Secretary and a close friend, with a slender majority of 799.

Luton North, the more affluent area, is the constituency of John Carlisle, a right-winger, Euro-sceptic and one of the Conservative rebels who threatened to vote against the Government over pit closures.

Mr Flint, 64, a Luton South constituency association executive member, said: 'My particular criticism of John Major is that he is too arrogant and is not listening to his backbenchers. And the backbenchers are not listening to grassroots opinion like us. There is too much power with the politicians at Westminster. Events of recent weeks have been most refreshing. In my view what the Conservative Party needs is a good dose of democracy.'

In the constituency office, Eric Manley is more loyal but still betrays a widely-held unease. 'There is a strong feeling of disappointment that things should have got so out of kilter so soon after the election,' Mr Manley, 74, a constituency vice-president, said. 'The trouble is that the politicians will not listen to the people who put them there. Some are pointing the finger at Mr Major, although I personally think that we should stick with him through thick and thin unless events show that we are mistaken. He has had a rougher ride recently than he deserves. He may have taken his eye off the ball for a while. But the last thing we need at the moment is an election, or a new leader.'

If the constituency is split over tactics, nothing illustrates the depth of local feeling more vividly than a recent debate over Maastricht. Local Conservatives last month discovered they were split 15-14 over the treaty.

Michael Hall, chairman of Luton North Conservatives, said: 'I don't think John Major is making mistakes. But there is a definite sense of apparent indecisiveness. And people were genuinely dismayed at the treatment the miners were getting. There is a general regret that things have not gone as well as we would have liked. But nobody has come to me yet and said, 'That man has got to go'.'

Perhaps Mr Hall should visit Luton Conservative Club more often. 'Most people here are absolutely incensed at the Government's incompetence,' said Frank Healy, 64, who runs an office equipment leasing company.

'There is no strong leadership as we were accustomed to under Margaret Thatcher. With this fellow, you just don't know where you are. He's a ditherer. Mr Major lacks charisma. I don't get a feeling that the Government knows what it is doing or where it is going.' Peter Colley, managing director of a materials handling firm, said: 'They ought to get Saatchi and Saatchi back. We need better presentation of government policy.'

(Photograph omitted)