Party workers left smarting at MP's act of 'betrayal'

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The Independent Online
IAN MacKINNON

Brandishing his privately commissioned poll of constituents suggesting he stand as an independent, Peter Thurnham advanced its findings as a key element in his decision to resign the party whip.

But Tory members in his Bolton North-East constituency who feel "betrayed" by his departure are equally quick to cite the poll carried out secretly as one of a series of "bizarre" moves by the MP.

The poll by Mori, among 638 voters, showed that 42 per cent said he would be right to resign the whip, 22 per cent that he would be wrong, and 36 per cent had no opinion. Yet, party workers who tramped the streets during three elections since 1983 knew nothing of the poll.

Their view was that the poll, and Mr Thurnham's disquiet over the handling of the Nolan report and the Scott inquiry, masked his pique at not being interviewed for the safe seat of Westmorland and Lonsdale.

Hilary Fairclough, a party member since 1992, has few doubts about Mr Thurnham's motivation. "I think it's bitterness. It stems from not being chosen for Westmorland. But he has used the other things to justify his decision," she said.

"He says he was unhappy with Nolan and Scott. But as an association member I was never aware that he was unhappy."

There were a number of issues that Derek Shepherd, deputy leader of Bolton council's Tory group, believed Mr Thurnham could easily have opposed the Government over, and still have retained party workers' respect.

"He was always a good member of the Conservative Party, slavishly voting for the Government in the lobbies. In fact a few times we wished he had kicked over the traces," he said.

"But for the last few months he has been behaving in a rather irrational behaviour. He was not invited for interview for the Westmorland seat. No doubt he was hurt by that. That seemed to turn to anger and resentment."

Still, his decision to quit the party, despite assurances given to senior figures in the constituency office, came as a surprise. "We feel kicked in the teeth and betrayed by him," said Mr Shepherd. "He has also treated his supporters in the Bolton North-East with total contempt. I can't think of one redeeming feature in Peter Thurnham's behaviour. It all leaves a very sorry taste."

For those who had come to regard him as a friend, the blow is harder. "It's regrettable that he has treated those people in that way, especially the chairman, Norman Critchley," said Mrs Fairclough. "He's been made to look a fool. He was trying to tell the truth, but he was being told things that subsequently turned out not to be true. It's a bit seedy."

But Mr Critchley was more understanding, saying that if Mr Thurnham returned to the party fold he would be welcomed back because of the sterling work he had done for the party and the area over the years.

However, the MP's agent, Graham Smith, said supporters who voted for him in the last election "feel very let down". He added: "They feel aggrieved, and some are very angry."

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