Gardiner by-election threat to Tory majority

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The Independent Online
John Major's one-vote Commons majority was under threat last night after the decision of leaders of Reigate Conservatives to recommend dropping their MP, Sir George Gardiner.

Sir George has warned he will force a by-election if he is rejected by a special meeting of all members of his local party on 28 June - a threat he repeated in a statement before last night's meeting of the executive committee of the Reigate Conservative Association.

Reigate Conservative Association's executive council decided last night by 15 to 14 votes to recommend that other people be allowed to enter the contest to stand as its candidate in the general election.

Sir George said that he would fight the decision at the special general meeting on 28 June when last night's executive committee decision had to be ratified. Sir George, who had a majority of more than 17,000 at the last election, said: "I understand the executive council decided not to recommend my re-adoption by 15 votes to 14. I will fight my corner at the special general meeting . . . confident that the bulk of my . . . activists will support me."

The association chairman, Major General Michael Steele, said: "We debated the application for re-adoption of Sir George and resolved that we were unwilling to recommend his re-adoption to the association membership." An arch-Thatcherite conspirator, Sir George upset his local party by backing John Redwood's challenge last year to the Prime Minister for the Tory leadership.

He has been at the forefront of right-wing calls for tax cuts and has attacked the Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke. One Westminster insider said last night that in the eyes of many Conservatives Sir George spent more time attacking the party leadership than the Opposition.

"He is about as popular at Westminster as he appears to be in his constituency party," one rival said.