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".

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam