Labour to stay in by-election fight

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Indy Politics
LABOUR yesterday insisted it would fight the Newbury by-election, rejecting a plea for it not to put up a candidate and so clear the way for a Liberal Democrat victory over the Tories.

At the weekly private meeting of the parliamentary party, MPs 'overwhelmingly and very very strongly' distanced themselves from the views of Richard Hall, the 1992 general election candidate. Mr Hall has urged John Smith, the Labour leader, and the local party that Labour should stand aside rather than risk a split in the anti-Tory vote.

Labour came third in the general election with 6 per cent of the vote, possibly enough to prevent the Liberal Democrats snatching the seat from the Conservatives.

A Labour spokesman said the by-election, caused by the death of Judith Chaplin, former political secretary to John Major, would be contested with 'maximum Labour effort'.

Mrs Chaplin established herself as a highly popular constituency MP after winning the seat in 1992. She polled 37,136 votes as against 24,788 for the Liberal Democrats and 3,962 for Labour. The Liberal Democrats will announce their prospective parliamentary candidate tomorrow week and Labour will name theirs on 2 April. The most likely date for the contest is 6 May, the day of the local elections.

Bob Mowatt, the Liberal Democrats' constituency agent, said: 'I think Richard Hall is a realist. To be 21,000 votes behind the Liberal Democrat and have a realistic chance of winning the seat is inconceivable.'

West Berkshire Conservative Association was due to meet last night to agree the process for selecting a Tory candidate from an expected 400 applications. About 20 are likely to be interviewed, with a shortlist of three presented to a special general meeting. The names of the contenders will not be released, but former ministers deposed at the last election are expected to be among them.