Even the Tatton Tories love Bell

THE LAVATORY at Tatton Conservative headquarters is an Aladdin's cave of cleaning products. Cans and aerosols of every conceivable variety are lined up along the windowsill, including Dettox Anti-Bacterial Room Spray (eliminates odours at their source). In one corner stands a vacuum cleaner; in another, a bucket and mop.

The message is clear: as Tatton Tories began the process of selecting a new parliamentary candidate this week, every trace of sleaze has been eliminated from the building that was once Neil Hamilton's power base.

The next general election is several years away but Conservatives in the seat snatched spectacularly by Martin Bell have received permission from Central Office to fast-track the selection process.

This week, Mr Bell, the former BBC journalist who defeated Mr Hamilton on an "anti-sleaze" ticket, reiterated his pledge to serve only one term at Westminster. This makes Tatton - once the fifth safest Tory seat - an enticing prospect, and a flood of applications is expected from parliamentary hopefuls, including former Conservative ministers seeking a return to frontline politics.

Among the names being whispered excitedly in the leafy streets of Knutsford, the main town, are those of Michael Portillo, Michael Forsyth, William Waldegrave and Sebastian Coe. None has yet confirmed his interest.

Not everyone would welcome a high-profile candidate - including some within Tatton Conservative Constituency Association. "Been there, done that," said Mark Stocks, the chairman of the association. "The last thing we want is another media circus."

Others believe that a respected politician would help to banish memories of the 1997 election debacle, when the association insisted on backing Mr Hamilton despite claims that he took money from Mohamed al-Fayed to ask questions in the House.

But divisions within the local party go deeper than differences of opinion about the best type of candidate. Twenty months on, the association is still riven by bitter in-fighting between supporters and opponents of Mr Hamilton. The dissidents say they have been squeezed out of key jobs and ostracised by their colleagues.

Mr Bell, meanwhile, is ruing the one-term pledge he made in the heat of battle but feels honour-bound to keep. "Everything that I stand for would be negated if I did not," he said. "It would be a specific and conspicuous breaking of a promise." His constituents believe he is stretching a point of principle too far. Many, including diehard Tories, would like him to stand for re- election.

Mr Bell has endeared himself to voters, and is said to be particularly popular with the ladies of the Alderley Edge Women's Institute.

On Knutsford Heath, scene of the famous confrontation between Mr Bell, Mr Hamilton and his redoubtable wife, Christine, people out walking their dogs said the independent MP had been a breath of fresh air.

Ken Andrew, a retired businessman, said: "Martin Bell is very likeable, very approachable, and he works hard for the constituency. I've voted Conservative all my life, but I'd be more than happy if he stayed on." Ken Gore, another Knutsford resident, said: "It's a great pity that he can't be persuaded to change his mind. It has been a relief to get away from party politics."

Such views are not surprising, given the goings-on in the local Conservative party. Mr Stocks' claim that the rifts have healed brings a hollow laugh from Mary Grimson, who narrowly survived an attempt to depose her as chairman of a ward party. "My husband and I were against Neil, and it didn't go down too well," said Mrs Grimson. "I don't want to say more than that."

One former councillor, who claims that he was squeezed out of his job, said: "Anti-Hamiltonians such as myself have been treated as lepers. It has been quite vicious."

There is one more name that is being mentioned in the contest to find a Tory standard-bearer: that of Christine Hamilton. She denies any interest in a political career, but there are fears that she may change her mind. One Conservative voter described that prospect as "too horrendous for words".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there