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Eyewitness in Manchester masthead
Issue number 16 Sunday the 4th of May 1997

Bolton Town Hall Manchester Town Hall Stockport Town Hall
Centres of Local Government in and around Manchester pictured in the first day of Britain's new Labour Government. Whether the election of a New Labour government will mean more financial support for town councils remains to be seen.

This week's news from Manchester is dominated by Thursday's general election, which brought Labour back to power with a massive majority.

As in the rest of the country, polling day in Manchester was drenched in sunshine, and there was a relaxed and holiday-like atmosphere. Opinion polls predicted a win for the Labour Party, but many Conservatives said the pollsters were getting it wrong, as they had done in the past, and were optimistic up to the close of voting at 10pm.

Nothing could have prepared the Government for the humiliation which came in the hours that followed. Result after result revealed a crushing rejection of the Conservatives, and a monumental personal triumph for Tony Blair.

Many of the most dramatic scenes of elation and despair were witnessed right here in the Manchester area. One of the most spectacular took place in the Tatton consitituency 15 miles away, where Conservative MP Neil Hamilton and ex-BBC journalist Martin Bell stood against each other.

The tv pictures as the result was announced made a colourful tableau, typical of the eccentricities of the British electoral process. Due to nationwide interest in the Bell/Hamilton battle, more than the usual number of "loony" candidates had decided to stand, foremost among them a painted transvestite with deer antlers and heavy mascara calling himself "Miss Moneypenny".

On the left of the stage stood the white-suited Martin Bell with his attractive daughter Melissa. On the right was dark-suited Mr Hamilton with his formidable wife, who during the campaign had successfully confronted Mr Bell at the so-called "Battle of Knutsford Heath".

As the Returning Officer read out the results for each candidate, however, it became clear who had won: 29,354 votes for Mr Bell, 18,277 for Mr Hamilton. The pouting Miss Moneypenny scored 128. A political miracle had happened - one of the safest Tory seats in the country had been overturned by the highly respected but politically inexperienced ex-war correspondent in the white suit.

The well-heeled voters of this English semi-suburban paradise obviously responded favourably to their distinguished and exclusive candidate, even if he has never seen the inside of the House of Commons. Some Labour and LibDem voters felt deprived, as their candidates had stood aside for Martin Bell. It was a bitter blow for Mr Hamilton, who has served as MP for Tatton since the 1983 election. Though he has admitted lesser indisretions, he has not been found guilty of taking cash for questions, and expects an enquiry to confirm his innocence.

Elsewhere in the Manchester area electoral hopes ended in tears, as in Rochdale, Cyril Smith's old constituency, which was taken by Labour from the Liberal Democrats. There was better news for the Lib Dems in the key marginal seat of Hazel Grove, which, along with Southport, they gained from the Tories.

Overall, the Tories have lost two out of every three seats in the North West, and the High Peak has been declared as a Tory-free zone. Their only success stories in the local area were in Sale and Altrincham West, Cheadle, Congleton, Fylde, Macclesfield, and Ribble Valley, all of which they held but with reduced majorities. As ever, Manchester and Salford remain solid Labour strongholds, though there was a 0.28% swing to the Liberal Democrats in my own constituency of Manchester Gorton.

An election party was held in Albert Square, and with a giant tv screen in front of the Town Hall. I didn't go as I had no transport home and taxis were scarce. Having once been attacked on my way home in the early hours of the morning, I decided to do what I always do and play safe. It's not difficult to imagine the atmosphere in Albert Square when the national result became clear.

Many people were shocked by the knife attack in Bramhall last Saturday night, in which judge's daughter Rachel McGrath lost her life. The following Monday morning, a young woman was abducted by a man who held a knife to her throat and forced her to drive over 150 miles. The ordeal ended at a set of traffic lights near Caernarvon, when she jumped out of the car and went to the police. A man is now being held in connection with both incidents, and I found out today that the murdered girl's boyfriend was the best friend of an acquaintance of mine.

Despite reports such as these, we have to keep the problem in perspective. Violence tends to be localised and intermittent. And as we know from other reports on this website, violent assaults were a problem fifty years ago. We'll have to wait and see if Mr Jack Straw, the new Home Secretary, and Blackburn MP, can do anything to reduce the crime rate.

The weather for the first two days of the New Labour era has been hot and sunny, but a cold front yesterday brought clouds and showery weather during the afternoon. The weather today is cool and pleasant, with intermittent clouds, sunny spells and showers.

The table tennis championships finish tomorrow, on the May Day bank holiday. Coverage and more info at the 44th International Table Tennis Championship Website.

One item of late news: After the UK's win in Dublin last night with "Shine A Light" by Katrina and the Waves, Manchester may host the next Eurovision Song Contest, venue: The Bridgwater Hall

Text and photos by Aidan O'Rourke


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