Party removes all traces of pol defector: Newham by-election: Voters baffled by last-minute change of allegiance as local Lib Dems leave ballot papers blank

(First Edition)

Kathleen King, chair of the local Liberal Democrats, could not bring herself to vote for Alec Kellaway, her party's candidate in the Newham North East parliamentary by-election, yesterday in spite of having spent weeks canvassing for him.

She left the ballot paper blank, voted for the Liberal Democratic candidate for the European Parliament and came out of the polling booth still seething at Mr Kellaway's extraordinary defection to the Labour Party the day before the by-election.

'I could not do anything else. We have not got a Liberal Democrat candidate,' Mrs King, 48, a private investigator, said.

The night before Mr Kellaway announced his change of party he and Mrs King had been out canvassing together for the Liberal Democrats until 8pm. She said: 'The next day he left a message on my answering machine at three minutes past one, two hours before the announcement of his defection.

'He said: 'Thank you very much for all your work. I will be making an announcement from Westminster. All will be revealed'.'

At the Liberal Democrat headquarters in East Ham yesterday there was much determined jollity and a distinct touch of the Dunkirk spirit. On the door a notice proclaimed 'Business as usual (for Europe)'.

A large photo of Mr Kellaway in the front window of the rented shop had been replaced by one of the party leader, Paddy Ashdown, and posters urging the electorate to 'Vote Kellaway' had all been taken down. Mrs King was clad in the party colours, a bright yellow jacket over a black dress, and workers had spent the day trying to get out their vote in the European elections in the two constituencies which include parts of Newham borough.

Nobody in the party was trying to persuade anyone to vote for Mr Kellaway, 40, an economist and market research consultant who until his dramatic defection was the only non-Labour member of the 60-strong Newham Borough Council.

Mrs King said: 'I have not spoken to Alec since this happened. At the moment if he contacted me I would not be able to do so. I can't believe that he has let me, the other activists, the voters and the party down. He is such a disgraceful man.'

Voters in the constituency seemed unimpressed and baffled by Mr Kellaway's action yesterday. Outside the polling station at Kensington primary school nobody would admit to having voted for him or even having contemplated doing so. James Gurry said: 'I can't understand what the man did it for. Why did he leave it till the last minute, or is some political game being played?'

Abdul Qayum said: 'He should not do that. It was a really strange thing to do, but I wasn't going to vote for him anyway.'

Sreedharan Sunil favoured the conspiracy theory: 'I think he probably decided to defect ages ago but only announced it now so that it would be impossible for the Liberal Democrats to find another candidate.'

Mr Kellaway spent yesterday at home. He said: 'I didn't realise the election would turn out quite as dramatic as this and I will make a statement tomorrow,' before putting the telephone down.

He will be well advised to stay out of Mrs King's way.

(Photograph omitted)