Tim Smith does the decent thing

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The Independent Online
One festering boil in the Tory party was lanced yesterday with the resignation of Tim Smith as Conservative candidate for Beaconsfield, but another remained as Neil Hamilton steadfastly refused to follow suit.

Mr Smith, who has admitted receiving up to pounds 25,000 in cash from Harrods' owner Mohamed Al Fayed for asking Parliamentary questions, stood on the doorstep of the home of the chairman of his Conservative association and announced he was retiring from politics.

He blamed the leak of his evidence to the cash-for-questions inquiry, being held by Sir Gordon Downey. It "has made my course of action inevitable with its complete disregard for both Parliamentary privilege and natural justice", he said. However, he gave no explanation about his relationship with Mr Al Fayed and made no apology.

Mr Smith said his actions were only ever prompted by "my best judgement of where the interests of the country and my constituents lay".

While many prominent Beaconsfield Tories had stood by Mr Smith, support appeared to be crumbling, which may have prompted his departure.

The former constituency vice-chairwoman, Caroline Strafford, said: "Beaconsfield is the third safest Conservative seat in the country and the 30,000 or more Conservative electors who last voted for Tim Smith have to be really confident that they have the best Member of Parliament." She said she felt local people were "disappointed" with Mr Smith.

Mr Hamilton, however, shows no sign of bowing to the pressure. His constituency chairman, Alan Barnes, said of Mr Smith's departure: "The two cases are totally different. Mr Smith admitted from the beginning he had accepted money. Neil Hamilton has consistently denied accepting cash for questions."

However, evidence to the Downey inquiry shows that Mr Hamilton accepted "secret commissions" , worth pounds 10,000, from lobbyist Ian Greer, and that he now accepts he lied to Michael Heseltine about having a "financial relationship" with Mr Greer.

John Major refused to make any comment about Mr Smith's departure but Conservative Central Office stood by him: "Obviously we are sad to see him go. I think he has acted with good grace and dignity."

It is possible that the party put him under pressure to go in order to help defuse the sleaze issue. Mr Smith spoke to Central Office yesterday because he believed the "vendetta" against him was damaging to the party.

According to Central Office sources, the Prime Minister "sympathises" with Mr Smith and only two weeks ago he was at a dinner at 10 Downing Street hosted by Mr Major for a group of Saudi Arabians.

Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, said: "All those MPs who have admitted taking cash for questions and are guilty of services rendered without declaring them are not fit to be Parliamentary candidates ... and John Major should show leadership for once in asking all of them to stand down."