Lib Dems choose woman candidate: The Christchurch by-election

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A 48-YEAR-OLD mother of teenage children was yesterday declared the Liberal Democrats' candidate for the Christchurch by-election. Opinion polls suggest she could win.

Diana Maddock defeated Howard Legg, who had been selected for the seat before the election, in a vote among local party members after a hustings meeting. The Rev Dennis Bussey, a methodist minister, who contested the seat at the election was eliminated before the meeting.

Ms Maddock is one of six Liberal Democrat councillors in opposition on the Labour- controlled Southampton City Council and a part-time regional organiser for the party in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Married to a computer engineer, she fought Southampton Test at the last election, where Labour squeezed the Liberal Democrats' vote and narrowly failed to take the seat from the Tories.

Ms Maddock said she would be seeking to reverse that process with Labour tactical voting in Christchurch, where the Liberal Democrats could win with a swing of 20 per cent - 8 per cent less than they achieved in Newbury. One poll at the weekend gave the Liberal Democrats a 15 per cent lead over the Tories in the Dorset constituency, formerly part of Hampshire.

The Liberal Democrats emphasised Ms Maddock's local connections. Although she was born in Croydon, she has lived in the Hampshire area most of her life. But the Tories are also rumoured to be playing the 'local card', by selecting a local party worker.

Local activists expect the by- election, caused by the death of popular Tory MP Robert Adley, to be called for 8 July.

1992 election result: R Adley (Con) 36,627; Rev D Bussey (LD) 13,612; A Lloyd (Lab) 6,997; J Barratt (NLP) 243; A Wareham (CRA) 175. C Maj 23,015. Electorate 71.438. Turnout 80.7 per cent.