Election '97: Patten 'in line for Tatton seat'

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The Independent Online
Tory activists in Tatton tried to secure waverers' votes by promising that Neil Hamilton would be replaced by the former Tory chairman Chris Patten, The Independent has learned.

One local resident said she been told by Tory canvassers that whatever her personal feelings about Mr Hamilton, the former minister at the centre of sleaze allegations, she should vote for him "this time round" as he would be out after the Downey report.

Then, instead of Martin Bell and the "Hampstead Mafia", Tatton Conservatives would have a new Tory MP in the form of Mr Patten, who will give up the governorship of Hong Kong in June.

Another Tatton Conservative Association source told The Independent that it was "fairly common knowledge". Mr Hamilton's Conservative supporters, he said, were "absolutely desperate. They'll say anything that's legal to get him re-elected".

He added: "It's been mooted about Chris Patten for a long time, since Mr Hamilton's adoption meeting. But to be perfectly honest it's absolute rubbish."

He even speculated that the promise was being made with Mr Hamilton's approval.

"I'll believe he'll stop at nothing to get elected. If that means that his people are saying 'don't worry, because if Neil's found guilty of any wrongdoing he'll resign', I'm sure that he sanctioned it. I don't think he thinks there's anything wrong with that."

Mr Hamilton's supporters, he said, are making the promise on the basis of a letter he sent to two prominent local Conservatives assuring him that if he was found guilty of bribery and corruption, or if he permanently lost the whip, he would resign.

But the source said many Conservatives felt Mr Hamilton had sidestepped the question. "What we actually asked him for is that if he was found guilty of wrongdoing, dishonesty or criticised, he would resign and obviously he's not prepared to do that."