The neighbours want cake, too

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The Independent Online
Poverty and affluence rub shoulders in Leeds North-East. The constituency takes in some of Leeds's poorest inner-city areas, traditional Labour strongholds, and spreads out through the city into large pockets of rural Tory-voting bliss; 57th on Labour's wish-list, it is the constituency that will give Labour a majority - if they win it. The sitting MP is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Home Office immigration minister Timothy Kirkhope. (Among Mr Kirkhope's recent local campaigns was one to redesign Little Chef tomato-sauce sachets so they could be opened more easily. The company duly introduced perforations.)

Although the Liberal Democrats have done well in Leeds in the past, Mr Kirkhope's main rival is the Labour candidate Fabian Hamilton, a local businessman. Leeds North-East's Labour Party members were known as the best campaigners in the north of England until recently; their efforts narrowed the gap between Tory and Labour before the 1992 election to make the seat into a marginal (the Tory majority is just over 4,000). But internal strife over candidate selection and quarrels with Labour head office have meant the local branch is not up to full campaigning force.

The local party's chosen candidate, Liz Davies, a former Islington councillor, was deemed too radical by the National Executive who refused to endorse her. Mr Hamilton, who was subsequently selected, does not enjoy the wholehearted support of the local left-wing. Some activists have moved off to campaign in other constituencies; meanwhile the local branch has been suspended until after the election because of procedural "irregularities", and the campaign is being run by an agent drafted in from London. Both Mr Hamilton and Ms Davies claim to have been "smeared" in what one activist refers to, now, as a "civil war".

Meanwhile, the election draws near. Chapeltown is one of the poorest areas of Leeds; it has a reputation as a red-light area and a centre for drug dealing. Many shops are boarded up; the main landmark is a burnt- out pub. It has a large Afro-Caribbean and Asian population. There is usually a low election turnout in the area, but most of those struggling with their shopping against the biting wind claimed they were eager to cast their vote.

"I've lived in Chapeltown for 36 years, and I'll be voting Labour," said Mrs Harding, out shopping with her daughter-in-law and granddaughter. "The Tories are useless in everything. They all lie and cover up, Labour as well, to get the votes, but Labour are better for the working people. The first thing I'd like them to do is bring back flogging for naughty little boys; criminals get away with everything these days round here. It's really changed in the last 20 years. And the police - half of them don't do their job properly, they are arrogant and ignorant."

She believed that a Labour government would have a difficult time making quick reforms. "I'd like Labour to get in, but I'd like to see the Conservatives clean up the mess they've made first - it'll be a big, big job."

Law and order, health, education and jobs were the issues that came up again and again (no one displayed interest in Europe). "I'm planning to vote Labour, and I think they'll get in," said Catherine, 37, a social worker waiting at the bus stop in the drizzle. "The most important issues are education and jobs. I'd like to be a politician, just for a day, to see what it's like, all that shouting and banging their bloody fists on the benches, but if I wanted a job like that they'd just say 'No, there's a job going on the dustbins' - I've been to college, but for people who don't have the ability, there's nothing."

David and Judith Leaf, loading their car with shopping by the Farmstore supermarket, were also planning to vote Labour. "They're all as bad as each other, I'm tempted by the Monster Raving Loony party this time," sighed Mrs Leaf, 37. "We've done well financially under the Conservatives, but it's time for a change; anyone with a conscience can see that."

Her husband, 36, a postman, believed that education was the key that would swing many votes. "I deliver to some very Conservative areas, and a lot of them are getting very outspoken about the education system. Well, this idea of tickets for kids at nursery school - it's a farce! I think a few Conservatives will definitely be changing direction over it. The Lib Dems haven't pulled any punches, they have been realistic about increased tax, so that might swing it their way. Paddy might surprise us yet."

"Labour are definitely less racist than the Tories," said Ian Mckoy, 24, a civil servant with a car full of his small nephews. "I can't stand the way they have made Chapeltown into a no-go area, with cameras up as if we're all thieves. It's black people this, black people that - other areas are as bad and don't get mentioned."

Stanley Gerber in the Harehills 50p and pounds 1 shop will be voting for the first time on 1 May. "I've chosen to vote this year for the first time because I want the Conservatives to get back in. This time they need the help. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't, though I don't believe it'll make much difference. Either team's crap."

A few miles up the road, it's a very different story. In Roundhay shops, designer shoes, designer clothes and designer cakes are on sale. People are a lot less ready to chat, and a lot more cagey about how they might be planning to vote. "You'll forgive me if I don't have a thought in my head about it all," said one woman, with a chilly smile, as she bought out-of-season strawberries at the greengrocer.

"I really don't wish to discuss my thoughts on any political issues," said another. One man gently but firmly pushed me aside at the sight of a notebook.

"I shan't be making up my mind until a lot nearer the date, though I expect I shall be voting Conservative or Liberal Democrat. I think the Tories have done a lot for this country," said Mrs James, mother of three neatly scrubbed children. "I think the Tories will hold on here. The Labour Party has been suspended so they won't have the canvassers out, which is good given that it's going to be close this time."

"The thing I'm most concerned about is keeping the streets clean," said pensioner Mrs Pape, outside the Coffee Shop. "I've voted Tory all my life; I was a bit disappointed with them last time, so I voted Green just to be awkward, but this time I'd put my money on Mr Major. The Conservatives do the best they can; I think mostly they're good folk," she added. "I don't like everything I read, but you know what the papers are like for blowing things up out of proportion."