Flight's rebels threaten split from Conservative Party

Supporters of the sacked Tory MP Howard Flight have made a fresh attempt to secure his reinstatement. And local activists say they may break away from the party if the former deputy party chairman is not allowed to stand at the election.

Rebels of the Arundel and South Downs Conservative Association met Mr Flight last night to decide the next step after Michael Howard withdrew the whip from the former front-bencher.

Mr Flight has protested angrily at the decision, which in effect stops him standing as a Conservative. He had made remarks seized on by Labour as proof of a secret Tory plan to impose bigger spending cuts.

Members of the local party executive will meet today to agree a shortlist for a replacement candidate and rank- and-file members meet on Wednesday to select a successor. Mr Howard has said that he will not reinstate Mr Flight.

Yesterday Harold Hall, a vice-chairman of Mr Flight's local association, said he had asked the MP, local association officials and Conservative Central Office to last night's meeting. He said he would back an attempt to seek an injunction preventing Mr Howard from deselecting Mr Flight and said some activists would back their MP if he defied the leadership and stood as an independent.

Mr Hall said: "Some feel they would rather not stay with a party that acted like this, if it got that far. Howard Flight has an enormous reputation as a constituency MP." But, he added: "It would be a major step. In my personal opinion, I would support it if it came to it."

He said supporters of Mr Flight still hoped to secure an extraordinary meeting of the local association to debate the issue before the selection meeting on Wednesday.

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