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The Independent Online
Conservative Central Office pressured the Reigate constituency association to delay for as long as possible a crucial meeting of its executive to decide whether to continue to support Sir George Gardiner as their local MP.

Last Friday, the executive voted 15-14 against endorsing Sir George and his future will now be put to a special meeting of the whole, 1,200-strong Surrey-based association at the end of June. If he loses, Sir George has threatened to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds - parliamentary shorthand for resigning his seat - and to force a by-election.

Fearful of the danger that threat would pose to their narrow majority, Central Office was arguing as long ago as last November, the Independent has learned, for the executive to meet much later this year, so that if Sir George did lose, a by-election would be made impracticable by the proximity to the general election.

A senior Reigate constituency official said that last November, "George had been saying should he be deselected he would reconsider his position and letting it be known, privately, that meant the Chiltern Hundreds."

Central Office got to hear of his stance and the local hostility building towards him. Since last November, said the senior Reigate Tory, Dr Brian Mawhinney, the Conservative Party chairman, had been trying to persuade the executive to take its time and not to rush into anything. "Dr Mawhinney was trying to delay the selection issue until such time as the de-selection of George couldn't threaten the Government with the Chiltern Hundreds and there would be no time before the general election," said the senior Reigate member.

So concerned was Central Office with the crisis in Reigate, that both Dr Mawhinney and Malcolm Rifkind, the foreign secretary, have been to the constituency to make strong speeches in defence of Sir George.