Fear of defeat prompts early poll in Wirral

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Indy Politics
The Government will move the writ on Monday for the Wirral South by-election for a poll on 27 February, to distance a likely defeat from the general election.

The campaign was already showing signs yesterday of being one of the most hotly contested by-elections in years, after tempers flared when a school expelled the education minister, Eric Forth, from its grounds during a visit by the Labour education spokesman, David Blunkett. The Tories accused Labour supporters of using "vile and obscene" language as the minister was forced out.

Mr Forth and Alan Duncan, an aide to the party chairman Brian Mawhinney were ordered out of the Wirral Girls Grammar School where they had gone to confront Mr Blunkett.

Les Byrom, the Conservative candidate for the seat, last night protested in a letter to Mr Blunkett and accused Labour of acting in a "thuggish way". He said that Mr Forth had been invited by BBC Radio Merseyside to appear in a "head to head" debate with Mr Blunkett, but when the Labour spokesman did not appear, he recorded the interview alone.

"As he was leaving, an excitable group of Labour Party members arrived ... One of them identified himself as a Labour governor of the school and asked Mr Forth to leave.

"Since he was doing so any way, and had never had any intention of entering the school buildings, he did so," said Mr Byrom.

The Wirral South poll is set to be a final big test for the Government before the election.

n The chances of the Government calling an early general election slimmed again last night as a Mori poll revealed that Labour has increased its lead by four points since early December to 55 per cent. The position of the Conservatives remains at 30 per cent.

No British party has ever overcome such a popularity lag this close to an election.