Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Christchurch Conservatives apply the stiff upper lip

THE only Tory, it was suggested on Friday morning, who might welcome a defeat for the Government in that night's confidence vote was Rob Hayward. Only in a general election might the Conservatives be confident of taking Christchurch. It is not easy to raise a laugh out of the struggling Tory campaign team - but that succeeded, writes Alex Renton.

Mr Hayward, who lost his Bristol seat at the general election, is bracing himself for defeat. Sitting over a pub lunch, he was philosophical: 'I think far too much is made of by-elections - there hasn't been a historically significant one since Hull in 1966 (which led to a general election). Yet, if the Conservatives lose Christchurch they can lose anything.'

Alex Carlile, the Liberal Democrat employment spokesman, was the first of his party to declare a victory - at a press conference. And he made a rasher promise: 'It is inconceivable that there should be a (Liberal Democrat) coalition with the Conservative Party led by John Major.'

This worried Liberal Democrat campaigners, for the threat that a Liberal Democrat vote paves the way for a Labour administration is perhaps the only card the Conservatives have left to play. 'There's a lot of undecideds out there, and they were all Conservatives,' said Diana Maddock yesterday, as she toured a shopping arcade. Yet a Maddock flesh-pressing tour is very different from a Hayward one. The Tory - who has avoided contact with the voter in the wild, preferring to meet them in their sitting-rooms - is a furtive canvasser, expecting grief. He gets it. Mrs Maddock progresses in a stately way, wreathed in smiles, and she gets them in return. Mr Hayward's has been a low-key campaign. Now, perhaps too late, a little aggression has entered the Tory effort. At a Friday night public meeting, Mr Hayward was fired by anti-Maastricht hecklers and mounted an attack on everything from Mrs Maddock's German car to her public spending plans: 'Her list comes to pounds 8bn extra that she's promised to spend - that's 6p on income tax.' You could sense the satisfaction in the hall - packed with members of the local Conservative association - as the candidate at last gave them something to fight with.

(Photograph omitted)