Flight meets lawyers as backlash grows over deselection

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Indy Politics

Howard Flight, who was sacked as a deputy Tory chairman for suggesting the party would cut public spending by more than it admits, threatened yesterday to take legal action in an attempt to remain an MP.

Howard Flight, who was sacked as a deputy Tory chairman for suggesting the party would cut public spending by more than it admits, threatened yesterday to take legal action in an attempt to remain an MP.

He met his lawyers last night amid a growing backlash against Michael Howard's decision to end Mr Flight's career in Parliament. Mr Flight wants the chance to put his case to a full meeting of his Arundel and South Downs Conservative Association, where he is a popular figure and some members want him to remain an MP.

Mr Howard hoped to limit the damage caused by Mr Flight's remarks to a private Tory dinner by taking decisive action against the millionaire MP, who was also the party's special envoy to the City. But many Tories, including some in the shadow Cabinet, believe the Tory leader has gone too far by deselecting Mr Flight, saying that losing his party post was a sufficient punishment.

Lord Tebbit, the former Tory chairman, questioned whether Mr Howard needed to "be quite so harsh" on Mr Flight. Writing in The Independent on Sunday, Lord Tebbit said: "Ken Clarke remains free to flout Howard's European policy - but not to suggest Howard has a secret one. Any Tory is free to press for more or less public expenditure, but not to imply Howard has a secret cuts agenda. There is a clear logic in that, but politics is about judgement as well as logic."

Mr Flight refused to bow to pressure to go quietly, even though the chairman of his association has said the local party will choose a new candidate for the general election. He has received messages of support from Tory MPs and peers and has not ruled out standing as an independent.

The MP, who may take his case to the High Court, said: "The lawyers have got to get together this evening. I was unanimously approved as a candidate five weeks ago. I am seeking to address a general meeting of the local party and there should then be a vote as to whether they want to keep me as the candidate for Arundel and South Downs. Apart from anything else, whatever the result it is crucially important that this is seen to be done properly."

The Tory leadership hopes the grassroots revolt in the constituency will fizzle out because the election is imminent. It is convinced that Mr Howard acted properly and that any legal challenge would fail.

A Tory official said: "The party's constitution is very clear. To be a candidate, someone must either be on the candidates' list or a sitting MP in receipt of the Conservative whip. Howard Flight is neither of these, so he is not able to stand for the Conservative Party. Everyone understands that Howard Flight is liked in the constituency, but the key thing now is to focus on selecting a new candidate."

Mr Howard admitted his decision was an "unpleasant one" but insisted: "I have a duty to do what I think is the right thing for the party and the right thing for the country." He told The Sunday Telegraph: "It's a terrible let-down when someone goes and behaves like this. What I can't have is someone misrepresenting my view, misrepresenting what we do in government and suggesting that we say one thing in private and another thing in public. That's not the way I do politics."

David Miliband, the Cabinet Office Minister, said: "The real issue is not one individual, but the Tory policy agenda Howard Flight has exposed. The Tories are in disarray and their tax and spending proposals are unravelling."

Bruce Anderson, page 35

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