Death of Labour MP pulls Tories back from brink

The death of the Labour MP Martin Redmond yesterday pulled the Government back from the Commons minority created by last week's death of the Conservative MP Iain Mills. Mr Redmond, 59, MP for Don Valley, in South Yorkshire, had been suffering from cancer.

Because he and Mr Mills have died so late in the life of the Parliament, neither Don Valley nor Mr Mills's Meriden constituency will be open for a by-election. But there is speculation about the timing of the Wirral South by-election and its possible impact on the timing of a general election.

A MORI poll for the Sun yesterday bore out Conservative fears about Wirral South, showing a swing of 15 per cent to Labour in the seat since the 1992 election, with Labour leading by 52 per cent to 36 per cent. Tories believe the scale of the swing reflects the change in population, with many new diehard Labour voters having moved "over the water" - the Mersey - and into the constituency, from Liverpool. A Conservative promise that the by-election will not be held up means it should be on 6 March, the earliest possible date after introduction of the new electoral register on 16 February. There were two lines of speculation prompted by the MORI findings: one, that the Prime Minister would call a 20 March election to avert an unrepresentative debacle in Wirral South; or that he would stall a general election until the last moment, 1 May, in the hope that the humiliation of Wirral South might be forgotten, and that things might improve.

The death of Mr Redmond means the Tories have the same number of voting MPs - 322 - as all other parties combined.

Obituary, page 10