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The BBC's Ben Brown
"Amongst most here there is a real local pride"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 11:15 GMT
Tale of two constituencies
The bridge linking Sedgefield and Richmond
There may be a political gulf between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, but geography has made them neighbours. BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley visits Sedgefield and Richmond.

Watching Tony Blair and William Hague sparring over the Westminster Despatch Box during Prime Minister's Questions is only a delight for those politics buffs who insist on calling the event "PMQs".

Compare and contrast
High income households:
Richmond 12%
Sedgefield 8%
GB ave. 11%
Blue collar households:
Richmond 2%
Sedgefield 28%
GB ave. 12%
Rural residents
Richmond 32%
Sedgefield 4%
GB ave. 7%
Ave. house price:
Richmond £94,582
Sedgefield £61,953
GB ave. £90,987
Source: Experian
How much more popular would be the confrontation if the two leaders squared up to one another chest-to-chest where the A167 crosses the River Tees?

The middle of this imposing, grey stone bridge marks the point at which Mr Blair's County Durham constituency (Labour majority 25,143) meets the North Yorkshire seat of Mr Hague (Conservative majority 10,051).

Standing at the Checkpoint Charlie of modern British politics, it is tempting to hunt out evidence of a stark divide.

True blue Croft-on-Tees has an air of gentility and is what your mum (and American tourists of myth) would call "quaint". Its final outpost before the bridge is a fine Norman church at which Lewis Carroll's father was once rector.

Sedgefield cricket club
Howzat for country charm?
The pot-holed car park of a working man's club is the first attraction in rose red Hurworth-on-Tees. Here brick and tile, rather than stone and slate, are the building materials of choice.

Sedgefield, the village which gives its name to Mr Blair's constituency, is not without its own rural charm. The sound of leather on willow welcomes those approaching from the racecourse.

Over a lunchtime pint at the cricket club bar, locals are lukewarm about their local political celebrity. "He's all right," shrugs one. "Not really my cup of tea," admits another.

Hardly bowled over

"You can tell when he's here, all right. About once a month the village is crawling with police."

At the village green (where a TV crew lounge), the busy estate agent seems keener on the PM's presence, perhaps seeing him as a selling point. "He eats at the Dun Cow quite regularly," she confides.

Support for "our Tony"
With his tastebuds tutored in London's trendy Islington, Mr Blair's preferred Sedgefield eatery must be worth a look. It may even serve linguine with sun-dried tomatoes - the dish pronounced his favourite in one cookbook.

Those wishing to find out should arrive before lunch service ends at 3pm (quarter past "on a sunny day") or go hungry. The chippy (fish and chips is the PM's favourite food, according to an interview in the local rag) and tandorri (chicken tikka masala, anyone?) don't open for a good few hours yet.

Sleepy Sedgefield

Around the corner from the Dun Cow's smart outdoor tables, residential Sedgefield spreads out - boxed-hedged and quiet. On cup final day, the blare of TV coverage comes from just one open window.

"In the mid-range, around £50,000, it's gone mad in Sedgefield itself," the estate agent had said. Indeed, the healthy crop of 'For sale' and 'Sold' signs easily outnumber placards supporting the local boy.

Trimdon Colliery
The pit villages remain, without the pits
Residents of the pit villages that surround Mr Blair's Trimdon home seem less reticent, "Vote Labour" signs sprout like weeds. The coal mines and slag heaps may have gone, but the decades-old allegiance to Keir Hardie's party has not, a local explains.

In the blazing afternoon sun, drinkers spill out of the pubs. Here, it's football shirts (or bare, tattooed skin) rather than cricket whites; ratty bar stools on tarmac, instead of the Dun Cow's street cafe umbrellas and teak furniture.

Trimdon Colliery boasts a Chinese takeaway, though "English dishes" comes before "Chinese food" on the sign.

Pit stop

The scars of mining may have disappeared, but it is unclear what employment prospects have replaced the industry which gave these streets of two-up-two-downs their raison d'Ítre.

Though not especially threatening on a bright spring day, a local paper recently reported a near-by line dancing venue had to employ a doorman to keep rampaging juveniles at bay.

True blue in Richmond
Despite what Yorkshiremen will tell you, the grass isn't greener, nor the sun brighter as you head down the A1 towards Scotch Corner, but the signs are immediately bluer.

"Vote Hague" shouts from billboards in farmers' fields on both sides of the busy arterial road.

Richmond, which advertises itself as an historic Georgian market town, sits right in the middle of the Tory leader's sparsely-populated, rural constituency.

Hague's castle keep

Cottages give over to neat semis and pristine bungalows on the town's outskirts. Streets of townhouses in the cobbled centre wind their way to the imposing castle ruins.

In the shadow of its ramparts sit two elderly women. "William Hague? He never comes to see us. No, we're the local celebrities, not him."

Broken window at the takeaway
Not all genteel in Richmond
Across the square, where a curry house is fixing the window broken in a Friday night brawl, the owner of a pet shop is more charitable.

Though not a "dyed-in-the-wool" Tory, he admits to liking Mr Hague. "He's here quite a lot, walking around without minders. He's a very fit 40 and his wife ... real film star looks."

The MP is said to dine regularly in a neighbouring cafe. No linguine, but its menu does boast an Islington-esque wild mushroom capelletti.

The jaws of defeat

Respect for Mr Hague has not stopped the petshop owner from stocking squeaky dog toy likenesses of the party leader. He snapped up a job lot of the rather unnerving busts, along with ones depicting Tony Blair.

At present, sales of the Hague toys are streaking ahead. Though winning the approval of slavering hounds may not be exactly the Tories' idea of poll success.

In Richmond itself, there are few other visible signs of support for the local MP. Even the Conservative Club is conspicuously without campaign posters.

William Hague dog toys
Something to chew over
This lack of enthusiasm about the coming ballot seems common to both sides of the Tees, especially given the burst of good weather.

Indeed, the differences between affluent Richmond and blue-collar Sedgefield are perhaps not as obvious as their polarised election records or the available demographic data would suggest.

A casual observer could not be blamed for missing the county line markers, the subtle shift of accent, nor even the differing architectural styles.

Perhaps the divide between the two communities indeed measures just a few feet across the floor of the House of Commons.


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