Tory defector told to expect no favours

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The Independent Online

Chief Political Correspondent

Labour leaders said last night they would not intervene to ensure that the Tory defector, Alan Howarth, was given a safe Labour seat in South Yorkshire.

Senior Labour sources said it was not within their gift to force a candidate on the Wentworth constituency and strongly denied trying to ease Mr Howarth's passage into the seat, which has a 22,440 majority.

Local activists protested after Mr Howarth threw his hat into the ring for the Wentworth seat.

Local party leaders suspected he was putting his name forward with leadership backing, but the row is almost certain to mean he will not now be selected for the seat.

However, he is a highly rated asset by Tony Blair in the campaign for the general election, and the leadership must be hoping that another Labour constituency will come forward to give Mr Howarth a home.

The former Conservative MP for Stratford-upon-Avon seat was used by Labour last week to try to persuade more wavering Tory voters in the Staffordshire South East by-election to swing behind the Labour Party.

A consistent critic of the Government on social policy, Mr Howarth is widely respected in the Commons, but he may have to retire from Westminster, if he does not win a seat. Unlike Emma Nicholson, the Tory MP who defected to the Liberal Democrats, he is also rated by Conservative MPs.

Under party rules, the National Executive Committee could only impose a candidate if there was a dispute, which was not the case in the Wentworth constituency.

If there was a constituency without a candidate when a general election was called, the NEC could impose a shortlist, although the final choice rests with the local party.