Lilley takes interest in safe seat

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The Independent Online
JOHN RENTOUL

Political Correspondent

Labour claimed yesterday to have spotted another flurry in the "chicken run" of Tory MPs deserting their seats for safer constituencies, pointing to new evidence that Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, might abandon St Albans.

Mr Lilley has issued a statement to the local press about a superstore development which is not in his present constituency, but in the new seat of Hitchin and Harpenden, which absorbs some of his St Albans seat. Boundary changes have reduced the Tory majority in St Albans from 16,500 to a notional 9,000, according to an analysis by the BBC, ITN, Press Association and Sky News.

Agnes Hall, chairwoman of the St Albans Conservative Association, said she had "absolutely no comment at all" on the speculation, and that the new seats would choose their candidates in November.

More than three-fifths of the existing St Albans seat goes into the new St Albans seat. Local newspaper sources claim Mr Lilley has devoted most of his attention recently to the Harpenden area of his constituency, which forms part of the new, safer seat. Mo Mowlam, a member of the Shadow Cabinet, wrote to Mr Lilley last night to ask him to confirm that he is "abandoning his constituents".

Meanwhile, Tim Wood, a senior government whip, refused to deny speculation that he could move from Stevenage, which has long been a Labour target, and where the majority has been cut from 5,000 to 3,000 by boundary changes. He has written to local groups declining to take part in political debates as a representative of the local Tory party, saying that the Stevenage association "has not yet selected a candidate for the general election".

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