The Liberal Democrats will delay a knife-edge by-election until July following the death of the MP Patsy Calton from breast cancer.
There was speculation that the battle with the Tories could be held on 23 June, the same day as the Staffordshire South parliamentary election, where polling had to be delayed because of the death of Jo Harrison, the Liberal Democrat candidate, during the general election.
However, senior ministers said last night it was too soon to hold the Cheadle by-election, which is now likely to be held in July. "It would be far too soon," said one minister. "Mrs Calton was very brave, and we need a decent time for mourning before the by-election."
Mrs Calton, 56, won her seat in Cheadle, Greater Manchester, in 2001 with a wafer-thin majority of 33 votes over the Tory, Stephen Day, making it the most marginal constituency. It was number five on the Tory target list for the election earlier this month, but Mrs Calton fought the election from a hospital bed, while she was undergoing treatment, and increased her majority to 4,020.
Mrs Calton was well-known in the constituency, where she had lived for many years with her family. She stood for the seat in two previous elections before defeating Mr Day. He has twice tried to win back the seat unsuccessfully, and is expected to stand again.
The Tories will be hoping to win back much of the personal vote secured by Mrs Calton, a former chemistry teacher, who served on Stockport metropolitan borough council.
However, Tory in-fighting over the leadership and direction of the Conservative Party since the election could make it more difficult for them to unseat the Liberal Democrats, who have a record of winning by-elections and who have a strong campaign team in place.
Mrs Calton was too ill to be at the count at Stockport Town Hall, but she showed her determination last week when she travelled by ambulance to be sworn in at the Commons while in a wheelchair.
Departing from tradition, the Speaker, Michael Martin, came down from the Speaker's chair to kiss Mrs Calton when she took the oath, watched by her husband, Clive and daughter Catherine in the public gallery. Many watching the ceremony were visibly moved.Reuse content