Christchurch by-election: Tory 'being set up as scapegoat'

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Indy Politics
CONSERVATIVE MPs believe that Rob Hayward, the Tory candidate in the Christchurch by-election, is being made the scapegoat for the expected Conservative defeat.

Friends of Mr Hayward, who was Tory MP for Kingswood, Bristol, said that he was being criticised behind his back by Conservatives in Christchurch.

Mr Hayward has faced a culture shock in Christchurch. Having held a marginal for seven years, until losing it to Labour at the general election, he was used to working-class Tory supporters.

But Christchurch Tories are dominated by former business executives, Army officers and civil servants. Some Tories in the constituency have said privately they would have felt more at ease with an old-fashioned style of Tory candidate. They complained about his droopy moustache. One woman inquired: 'Can't you make it grow upwards?'

His predecessor, Robert Adley, presented the traditional picture of the Rotary Club Tory MP: portly, smoking cigars and wearing pin-stripe suits. Mr Hayward, tall and thin, a former personnel manager with Esso and Coca Cola Bottlers, is more out of the John Major mould.

Labour's Nigel Lickley, a barrister, has looked more the part of the Tory in the town, wearing pin-stripe suits and red and white polka dot ties. Some local Tories may have decided Mr Hayward's face did not fit, but it has been John Major's leadership which has been on trial in the by-election. Mr Hayward's campaign has been on the defensive from the outset, particularly over VAT on domestic fuel, which has been exploited with deadly skill by Diana Maddock, the Liberal Democrat candidate.

Tory waverers have produced long lists of complaints against the Government at nearly 40 'at homes'. Underlying them all is the central complaint about the lack of leadership at the top.

There were rumours that Norma Major would make an appearance in the seat, but it would have been the wrong choice. Thatcherism is alive and well in Christchurch, with its bowling greens, yachting haven and bungalow estates, and many Tories long for the return of the former prime minister.

That is why some Tories campaigning in Christchurch this week found it hard to understand why the Tory voters appear ready next Thursday to vote for a Liberal Democrat.

The Hayward campaign has been slow to attack that central contradiction by targeting the Liberal Democrats. His supporters are hoping that attacks on the Liberal Democrats will work in the final week.

That may still happen. The Liberal Democrats are becoming alarmed at wild reports that the Tory candidate may lose his deposit.

They suspect such speculation has been inspired by Conservative Central Office to stiffen the Tory vote.

Meanwhile, Paddy Ashdown is planning a rally in the town on Monday night. On present showing, he may be forgiven for allowing it to look like a victory celebration three days before the event.

But a Liberal Democrat victory, if it happens, will still leave one issue unresolved: does it mark a lasting shift in public opinion, or will Mrs Maddock join the ranks of other Liberal Democrat by-election victors who have gone, and been forgotten?

(Photograph omitted)

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