THE WOODWARD AFFAIR: `They should denounce him as a cheat on the Jerry Springer Show'

"YOU KNOW I think they should put Shaun Woodward on the Jerry Springer Show. He would walk on and the caption at the bottom of the screen would read `You cheated on me so you're out'."

In the town of Witney, on the edge of the Cotwolds, it was the morning after the day before, and the talk - at least in some quarters - was not just of cheating but of betrayal, treachery and dishonour. One almost expected to see blood in the overnight snow.

At the home of David Harvey, deputy chairman of the West Oxfordshire Conservative Association, it was clear there was no longer any love lost. The suggestion about exposing Mr Woodward on prime-time trash television came from Mr Harvey's wife, Chrissie, and her husband added: "I think that the members of the association are very sad. I think they feel very let down by what had happened. In a way it is almost like a death in the family. There is a grieving process but then you have to try and move on."

Mr Harvey, who actually looked physically shocked and unsettled, had learnt of the defection of the man for whom he had helped secure the Witney seat at the 1997 election, second hand. After hearing of the mounting speculation of Mr Woodward's imminent defection on Sky News on Saturday morning, he and the association chairman, Barry Tanswell, tried to track him down.

Eventually Mr Tanswell spoke to Mr Woodward at a village hall at Milton- under-Wychwood where he was holding a surgery. He then trooped back to tell Mr Harvey and others the gloomy news. Almost immediately they began the search for a new candidate. "It is very disappointing. It has come as a huge shock," said Mr Tanswell said, a bitter note in his voice. "My job is to pick up the activists who were on the floor yesterday."

There is little doubt that those who campaigned for Mr Woodward when he took over as party candidate from the much-loved Lord Hurd of Westwell, feel terribly let down. Although Mr Woodward's majority was nothing like that of his predecessor, he still won by 7,000 votes - an achievement for which they say they worked very hard.

But shoppers braving the icy weather yesterday to search out Christmas bargains - "reindeer antlers just pounds 1," one stall-holder's sign offered temptingly - had mixed views on the defection that has made Mr Woodward Witney's first Labour MP this century. "I actually think that it shows that he stands up for what he cares about," said Mo Densham, a teacher and Conservative supporter who had voted for Mr Woodward in 1997. "If he was to stand next time as Labour I would would probably vote for him again."

Terry Brain, a bank executive who voted for the Liberal Democrats in 1997, voiced the concerns of many, when he said that regardless of Mr Woodward's motivation, there should be a by-election.

There also seemed to be general view that Mr Woodward was a decent constituency MP. He may have lived in a huge country house with a wealthy heiress, hosted parties where guests were met by transvestite doormen on stilts (pay attention Mr Springer), but he also campaigned vigorously on local issues. "I think if you represent your constituents, it doesn't matter what party you are a member of," said Philip Heath, as he walked out of Waitrose. Sadly, for Mr Woodward, not everyone in Witney feels that way.

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