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Friday, 1 June, 2001, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Huntingdon's invincible green shadows
Oliver Cromwell's school
Oliver Cromwell's school, now a museum
You chose Huntingdon as the second stop for the Virtual Battlebus. BBC News Online's Giles Wilson reports from the town which John Major has represented for 22 years.

The history books might not yet have decided how to remember John Major.

But as he bows out of politics - apparently for good - his place in the dictionaries of quotations is secure.

Not just for his desire for a classless society, or for wanting a nation "at ease with itself", but also for his assessment of what made Britain British.

sight screen
Shadow lands - sponsored by an Indian restaurant
"Fifty years from now," he told fellow Conservatives in 1993, "Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and - as George Orwell said 'old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist'."

In the constituency Mr Major has represented since the hazy dawn of the Thatcher age, you will find echoes of these images.

Ancient churchyards, chestnut leaf canopies, wisteria. Small, interesting shops selling old clock keys at 2 thrive.

Remainders of the day: Major is down but not out
A small market town in the middle of the flat Cambridgeshire fens, Huntingdon is surrounded by a clutch of tiny villages.

Make no mistake, these are very Conservative parts. Mr Major had an 18,140 majority; it has had a Tory MP since at least the Second World War; it's the Tories' safest seat.

When former party leaders step down, even in safe seats, things do not always run smootly. Baroness Thatcher's Finchley was won by Labour in 1997. Neil Kinnock's Islwyn was won by Plaid Cymru for the Welsh assembly.

Debbie Fletcher outside her Curiosity Shop
But for Mr Major's would-be successor Jonathan Djanogly not to find himself in Parliament would require a Tory wipe-out that even Millbank Tower could only dream of.

Sense of history

John Major was never going to be the town's most famous former MP. Oliver Cromwell already has that one bagged, and he's not giving it up.

A small square complex in the High Street was the grammar school where Cromwell studied. Samuel Pepys later sat at the same desks. It remained a seat of learning until the Second World War.

Cromwell looks over St Ives
Now it houses the Cromwell museum, explaining the remarkably un-celebrated period of English history when the king was beheaded, the House of Lords was abolished, and the country became a republic.

Huntingdon rightly feels proud of its former grammar school boy who became head of state - even if his head did end up on a pole for 20 years as a warning to traitors.

Perhaps Mr Major has left a mark on the place - for despite this special history it does not feel like a special town. It seems unashamed to be ordinary.

Houses in Brampton
New houses: Change comes through expansion
Its people may be younger and richer than the national average, but the concerns of those on the street seem like those of any town.

Better rail links, for example. Or the pressures of new house building and a fast-growing population. ("Towns expand, but you don't get the facilities to go with them. You might think a KFC and a pseudo-Italian restaurant is an improvement, but you're welcome to them," says one resident.)

And then there's the classic middle England issue: the amount of traffic on the nearby A14 to Cambridge. ("Biggest car park outside the M25," volunteers a shopkeeper.) Jonathan Djanogly received a fair dose of ridicule in the press recently for proposing that speed cameras on the A14 should be painted bright orange.

Maureen Bailey: No sympathy
Talk to some of the town's older residents about the election, and Europe will be mentioned. At the last election David Bellamy won more than 3,000 votes for the Referendum Party. The UK Independence party now drives a van with loudspeakers round the town.

But being as this is middle England, people do not seem too worked up. WHSmith, near the museum, has just one manifesto on sale - Labour's. Either people really aren't that bothered, or the Tory one has already sold out.

A similar sort of unflappability seems to be held towards animal rights protesters, who regularly demonstrate in the town against the nearby Huntingdon Life Sciences.

Derek Leadbeatter: I'm no fan
But shopkeeper Maureen Bailey says they get a weary reaction from the locals. "You can't move when they're there. They're not going to get public sympathy that way," she says.

Although pensioner Derek Leadbeatter feels outnumbered as a Labour voter, his relaxed and even warm attitude towards the outgoing Mr Major seems typical of an easy-going nature.

"I met him a couple of times. He used to give out the prizes at a swimming club I used to belong to. I've got no time for his politics, but he's a very nice fella."

The places The people The controversy The sights
1. The places 2. The people
3. The sights 4. The controversy


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