Election '97: Bell in clear as Tatton's Lib Dem pulls out of fray

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The Independent Online
Liberal Democrats in Tatton, Cheshire, unanimously voted for their candidate to stand aside in favour of the "anti-sleaze" candidate Martin Bell last night, leaving the election battle for the constituency to him and Neil Hamilton.

The vote, which was taken on a show of hands, means Mr Bell is free to be formally nominated at a meeting tomorrow.

He said: "The result could not have been more clear. I have now received a higher proportion of votes from two parties to which I do not belong than Mr Hamilton has from the party to which he does belong. He may reflect on that."

"I appeal to him even at this late hour that it is still not too late for him to withdraw and spare him and his constituency further embarrassment," Mr Bell said.

Roger Barlow, the Liberal Democrat former candidate, said he had been surprised at the result, "because Liberal Democrats are seldom unanimous on anything.

"I said at the adoption meeting that if a suitable independent candidate could come forward, I would step down.

"I'm overjoyed that a suitable independent candidate has come forward in Martin Bell. I think that he represents a real chance of getting rid of Neil Hamilton.

"Mr Hamilton has not stood down despite all the allegations against him that remain unanswered.

"Mr Major was ill-advised to dissolve Parliament before the Downey report was published and the Conservatives will have to pay the price, nationally, and in Tatton."

Asked about previous dissension within the Liberal Democrat ranks about their local candidate's removal, Dr Barlow said the 80 members who had attended the meeting "had had a chance to think things through and to see Martin Bell in action." He added that he would be supporting Mr Bell's campaign and hoped that they would do, too.

Sources at the meeting last night confirmed that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats would be "like coiled springs" until the close of nominations, in case Mr Hamilton did stand down.

Mr Bell also revealed at the meeting that he would stand down after one full term in office. "Then I will have nothing to do with politics for all the rest of my days," he laughed.

The meeting was also attended by Robin Estridge, the former Conservative ward secretary of Alderley Edge.

Mr Bell said last night that his was not a party political campaign and that he had received many expressions of support from local Conservatives.

Laurence Hobday, a local Conservative councillor who resigned in protest at Mr Hamilton's re-selection, was understood to be accompanying Mr Bell as he campaigned locally today.