Mr Forth faces a bitter left-right contest on 22 September for the new Mid-Worcestershire seat against Peter Luff, the centre-left MP for Worcester, himself fleeing a cut in his majority. Yesterday, Mr Forth explained why: "It happens to be politically advantageous - since politics is my career and pays my wages and my mortgage, I see nothing mysterious in it." Asked why two sitting MPs were fighting, he said: "It is not for me to explain it." Mr Luff was not available for comment.
Frank Dobson, a Shadow Cabinet member, said: "There's no stopping them, is there? Thank God neither of them was the captain of the Titanic, or there would have been no survivors."
This weekend candidates will be shortlisted in Tewkesbury and Norfolk North. Peter Bottomley, 51, who abandoned his tiny majority in Eltham, south London, saying "I'm getting a bit old to be fighting a marginal", is among 20 hopefuls for South Cambridgeshire, with a notion-al majority of 19,000.
Labour claims the reluctance of Tory MPs to defend constituencies with small majorities shows their lack of confidence in the outcome of the next general election.
So far, the roll call of leading "chicken runners" includes: Brian Mawhinney, Conservative party chairman, who left Peter-borough for Cambridgeshire NW; Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health, abandoned Loughborough for Charnwood; Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, is expected to ditch St Albans for Hitchin and Harpenden; and Nicholas Soames, Defence minister, quit Crawley, with a majority cut to 3,000, for Mid Sussex, estimated majority 17,000.