Scott sacked despite drink pledge

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The colourful career of the Right Hon Nicholas Scott, KBE, MP, finally juddered to a halt, despite final pledges to teetotalism, at 9.45pm last night.

The 63-year-old charmer for Chelsea - and until last night the incumbent of the plum Tory seat of Chelsea and Westminster - clung on until the very end, with a last-ditch pledge: "For as long as I hold any public office of any sort I will not touch another drop of alcohol."

That did not wash with the party faithful who turned out in their hundreds at Kensington Town Hall to boot out the long-standing MP. Some 509 constituents voted against the motion to keep Sir Nicholas as prospective parliamentary candidate. Though 439 were in favour of keeping him, he was forced to resign. He was said to be "crestfallen" and Tory MPs were shocked and saddened by the vote.

There will be no shortage of would-be successors, with former Tory MPs on the "chicken run" from seats made unsafe by boundary changes lining up for a selection meeting within weeks.

It came as a further blow to John Major's troubled leadership. One of Mr Major's ministerial allies, David Willetts, is expected to resign if he is heavily criticised by a select committee which will meet today to decide whether to condemn him for allegedly interfering in a disciplinary hearing against another minister, Neil Hamilton, when he was a whip.

Mr Major's one-seat majority in the Commons will not be imperilled by the deselection - Sir Nicholas has promised to loyally "soldier on" as the Conservative MP for the seat until the general election. But the local Tories rejected an appeal by more than 120 Tory MPs, including former Cabinet ministers, for Sir Nicholas to be given another chance.

For many years, Sir Nicholas, a former Northern Ireland minister, was a key figure of the centre-left of the party and is widely liked. Party officials said the decision was tipped by his recent conviction for drink-driving. Being found face down on the pavement in Bournemouth after a drinks party at the Irish Embassy was the last straw.

The constituency chairman, Andrew Dalton, told reporters: "As a result of the ballot it was clear Sir Nicholas Scott no longer commanded the confidence of the association as a whole.

"He has, in consequence resigned as the prospective parliamentary candidate for the Kensington and Chelsea Conservative Association."

Mr Dalton said Sir Nicholas had been disappointed. "There was a certain sadness but he bore it like a man."

One of his critics, Diana King, said she would have voted Labour at the next election if he had won the bid to keep his seat "because I'm not going to vote for him".

"If you're given a choice between Winston Churchill and Screaming Lord Sutch, you don't need to hear the speeches," she added. She said Sir Nicholas had explained to the meeting the clash between painkilling tablets and a small amount of wine which led to his being found by police in a Bournemouth street during the party conference and escorted back to his hotel.

Ms King said Sir Nicholas insisted at the meeting that he had not been "in the gutter". He fell outside the hotel and a policeman picked him up.

Sir Nicholas's defeat saddened many Tory MPs. Sir Ivan Lawrence, MP for Burton, said: "It is a sad blow for Parliament because much of his parliamentary life had been sacrificed for the disabled and the people of Northern Ireland."

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) said: "I am sorry because I feel he has been sacrificed because of the handling of the disability Bill."

Dr Robert Spink (Castle Point) said: "It is a great shame to see a colleague go out in such circumstances after a very distinguished career."

Last week I joined the Kensington and Chelsea Conservative Association. Twenty-five pounds and a little white lie (occupation: writer) later I was a paid-up member.

Since I joined after 4 November (the date of the previous selection meeting) I was unable to vote. But I could attend. I took proof of identity and, doing my best to look the pearls and twinset part, flashed my friendliest smile at Sir Nicholas on the way in. "Good luck," I said. "Bless you," came the reply, as from a priest who didn't recognise half his congregation on Christmas morning.

He would have had my vote if I'd had one. As another association member pointed out: "Some of the nicest people I've known have enjoyed a drink. You may remember Winston Churchill. Thank God he wasn't dismissed."