Dissident backs the Lib Dems

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The dissident Tory Peter Thurnham yesterday suggested that electors should vote Liberal Democrat in today's council elections if they want to guarantee a referendum on Europe.

The MP for Bolton North East, who resigned the Conservative party whip in February and describes himself as an independent, again denied allegations that he is considering joining Paddy Ashdown's party. "I'm very happy sitting on the Government benches as an independent," he said yesterday.

But he compounded the Conservatives' troubles with his controversial voting suggestion, amid fears they are heading for a heavy defeat in today's elections.

"As local electors go to the polls, they should vote for the best candidate to deal with their local concerns, regardless of perceived national party issues," he wrote in his weekly column for his local newspaper, the Bolton Evening News. "But if in doubt, remember that the Liberal party is the only party fully committed to both a referendum and to proportional representation which gives a fairer voice to minority parties."