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Saturday, 9 June, 2001, 09:21 GMT 10:21 UK
Blair slides on home ground
Tony Blair and family at the Sedgefield polling station
Polling day - but many constituents stayed away
Tony Blair's personal majority in Sedgefield fell by 8,000 votes. Was something going on close to home, or was this just another symptom of voter apathy, asks BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley.

They have been reclaiming the road signs on the approach to Sedgefield.

Tape marks are all that remains of the election campaign high-jinx.

But they have missed one sign. "BLAIRVILL€" is but one mile away, it advises.

This is Tony Blair country, Sedgefield and its pit village satellites.

But it seems that Tony's people are not too sure about their local-boy-done-good again.

Local resentment

Turnout in this constituency was low, and the stayaways shaved thousands off Mr Blair's majority.


It's not the same Labour party any more

Former Sedgefield miner
In Trimdon Colliery, Tony and Cherie Blair have their constituency home - the charmingly named Mirabella.

This moniker seems somewhat incongruous in the squat village nested in hills above Sedgefield.

The men in one local pub seems to resent the prime minister's local stopovers.

The armed police that swamp the area seldom deign to intervene if trouble kicks off, leaving it instead to local bobbies.

It is not just the police keeping out of local affairs.

"When Blair first got in, he'd come around for a drink. Now he only goes to the constituency club," says one drinker, a former miner.

"It's not the same Labour party any more," he says.

Labour loyalty

It is often said that a donkey with a red rosette could carry a constituency like Sedgefield, such is the ingrained loyalty to Labour.

"It was drummed into us as kids, Labour is for the working people," says a woman in a nearby shop.

Sedgefield back street
Sedgefield: A constituency of traditional Labour support
"But that's all changed, especially for the young ones."

She refuses to give her name - in such a small community, suggesting a person could vote anything other than Labour is tantamount to heresy.

"Never talk about politics or religion," she advises.

The flush of pride of being a neighbour of the PM is subsiding of late, she says.

Apathy

"People come in now and say they wouldn't vote for him.

"They expected more from him and quick. But then people always expect all sorts."

Consulting her colleague, the pair decided Trimdon voters have not turned against their MP, they have merely become disheartened.

Apathy is another factor, says the second woman. "I've got two polling forms for my boys still sitting on the kitchen bench."

Mr Blair's down home woes could be due to a simple downpour, says Lisa Foster, collecting her daughter from the well-regarded Deaf Hill primary school.

Labour placard in Sedgefield
Coming out in support of Mr Blair
"It was a lovely (Thursday) morning, but the rain was torrential by the afternoon."

When Labour has such a solid majority, why would people risk a soaking?

The perceived wisdom of Trimdon is that those who know the prime minister personally have nothing but good to say about him and none of the suspicion displayed by mere acquaintances.

Mrs Foster was lucky enough to have the pre-Downing Street Mr Blair at her wedding. She even used to do Cherie's hair.

"They are lovely lovely people," she says.

Mrs Foster's enthusiasm is infectious, but she becomes downcast at the mention of low turnout.

"I'm surprised," she says, "everyone I talked to said they were going to vote for Mr Blair."

She refuses any claim that prime ministerial duties have diverted Mr Blair's attention from local matters.

"He goes out and about and knows what's happening here.

"A lot of things he says he wants to do comes from his knowledge of this area and its problems."

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