Heseltine faces egg-throwers: Communists disrupt Newbury by-election meeting. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, was loudly heckled and had eggs thrown at him last night during a stormy meeting in the previously uneventful Newbury by- election campaign.

Mr Heseltine's praise for John Major's 'diplomatic coup' in ratifying the Maastrict treaty prompted an angry reaction from members of the Communist Party of Great Britain and opponents of the Maastricht Treaty on European union.

He was heckled by supporters of Dr Alan Sked, who is standing as the Anti-Maastricht Anti- Federalist League candidate. Two eggs then thrown at the platform by Communist Party members landed above Mr Heseltine and the Conservative candidate, Julian Davidson. Stewards hurriedly removed the protesters from the school hall at Thatcham to the applause of Tory supporters.

Police were called but no arrests were made.

In a strongly pro-European but anti-Social Chapter speech, Mr Heseltine claimed the Liberal Democrats would let socialism in by the back door.

Mr Heseltine's speech was timed for the eve of the completion of the Report Stage of the treaty legislation.

His guarded defence of the Government's economic record did little to dampen expectations yesterday that David Rendel, the Liberal Democrat, will take the seat.

That projected victory is unlikely to reach the heights of the 10,000 majority indicated by last weekend's NOP opinion poll. A drop of about 10 per cent in turn- out from the 82.8 per cent in the general election could still see a narrow defeat for the Conservatives, while a concerted Liberal Democrat attack on the apathy factor could mean a comfortable win for Mr Rendel.

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, told a rally in Newbury last night that voters should seize their chance to demand a change: 'On Thursday you can vote for David Rendel - a strong, independent- minded local voice for Newbury - who will take with him to Westminster the message that the British people are not happy with the Government's performance; they are not happy with their policies - and they want to see some changes.

'Or you can vote for another loyal backbench Conservative to vote for Norman Lamont's budgets - and send this Conservative government the message that, however many mistakes it makes, it will never have to pay the price.'

Mr Ashdown highlighted how resigning had gone out of fashion under a government of 'decline, division and, at times, downright dishonesty'.

Andrew Marr, page 19