My Week: How the suburbs were lost - or won: Claire Healy wrestles with Disgruntled of Bromley for the sake of a Tory Europe

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The Independent Online
Tuesday: The best thing about Bromley on first sight is the 9.29 straight back to Victoria. Teetering on the edge of South-east London, it epitomises suburban banality and offers little more than a plush shopping centre. But the Tory Party posse has left the European parliament in Brussels and must secure the re-election of Bromley's MEP. A campaign office is set up in a disused shop in the High Street and locals are encouraged to come in. (It was a Ratners before Gerald Ratner called some of its contents 'crap'.)

A quick briefing from the man himself and I'm left to my own devices. With opinion polls on the Conservative Party crashing to a record low, I swiftly discover that the locals need little encouragement to come in and I find myself a sitting target for anyone with a grudge.

Wednesday: Back in the campaign office, and the European elections are ignored as Bromley residents make their anger towards the Government felt. A crowd of students demand to know where their grants have gone. I'm damned if I know - I'm still looking for mine. But I keep quiet and check the campaign guide for information to pacify them. They leave disgruntled. A young man asks me if I don't find it insulting that our office is set up next to Bromley job centre. I give the standard reply that unemployment is falling because John Major negotiated a UK opt-out from the Social Chapter, and suggest that he votes Conservative. He looks at me quizzically and sticks up two fingers.

Thursday: A cluster of ladies from the local Conservative associations arrive to lend a 5helping hand. They are well- mannered and impeccably dressed, the gentlest of creatures. We chatter happily about all things nice. I almost don't notice the sweet- sounding bile directed at single mothers and their fervent belief in bringing back hanging. Whether the death sentence is to be applied to the mothers isn't clear, but I'd be wary of leaving my mum around them for very long. Still, the knowledge that Conservatism, albeit in a severe form, is alive and well in Bromley will boost morale, and the ladies go down well with the voters.

Friday: Media coverage and intensive campaigning have increased interest in European issues. Cautious optimism prevails, but heads may yet roll. The topic of discussion among the Bromley ladies is who will take over if Major goes. I suggest Kenneth Clarke but an eloquent woman insists he's not ready. She reveals herself as the good man's mother-in-law - and who am I to contradict a mother's instinct?

Saturday: I glimpse the headlines as I board my train: 'Major Attacks the Homeless'. My heart sinks. I'm beginning to despair of dragging this campaign off Britain's streets and into Euro- mode. Someone throws tomatoes at the window; another hides a dead fish in the office.

Sunday: Recuperate? I flick through the papers and find a columnist suggesting that MEPs take home up to pounds 200,000 a year if they have an assistant who doubles as a wife or sleeps in the office to save on hotel bills. I paid my own way from Strasbourg to Brussels to Bromley and gratefully accepted my pay of one ecu an hour during the election campaign. Gutted]]

Monday: A beautiful day and the posse is out canvassing in the Tory heartland. The birds chirp, the Volvos purr. Smiles abound. The BBC arrives. The candidate strolls confidently up the path - a spontaneous conversation has been arranged. More smiles. Just once more, for the cameras. But unplanned interviews are prone to go awry and the 'disgruntled life-long supporter' has had enough. We're sent packing. A minor hiccup on an otherwise perfect day.

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