Major gambles with timing of by-election

Tories face early defeat in Wirral South, where a former supporter is standing on an anti-smoking ticket

John Major is ready to take a gamble by holding the Wirral South by-election within weeks of the general election.

Senior Tory Party sources said the by-election would be held by 6 March, giving the Tories a severe test before the Prime Minister calls the general election.

Tony Blair declared: "I am delighted that we are going to have the by- election. We have been pressing for this. The Conservatives have been forced into it.

"The people of Wirral can give a lead to the rest of the country, and they will be choosing between a Conservative Party that really has nothing now to say about the future of this country, and a Labour Party that's got the policies and the energy and the ideas to sort out the issues that this country really needs sorting out."

Speculation on an Easter general election was mounting last night following reports that the Tories are preparing for a large-scale poster campaign in late March.

According to a story in today's Campaign, the trade magazine of the advertising industry, the party has cancelled some site bookings made for late April and early May and has instead brought hoardings for the second half of March and for early April.

The news has fuelled rumours that the election could be announced at the Conservatives' spring gathering in Bath in mid-March and could be held on 10 April. Although party sources are still stressing that the favoured date for the election is 1 May, the day before Good Friday has been mentioned as a possible polling day.

Yesterday's news suggests that at the very least they are keeping their options open in case the Government looks unlikely to survive until May.

Brian Mawhinney, the Tory party chairman, announced yesterday that the Tories would be abiding by the parliamentary convention to hold a by-election within three months of the death of an MP.

Barry Porter, the Tory MP for Wirral South since 1979, died on 3 November last year, leaving the Tories with a dilemma of trying to delay until the general election, or risking a defeat within weeks of the election being called.

The Tories will be defending a majority of 8,183. Party sources denied Labour claims that they had been pushed into calling the by-election.

"Canvass returns in Wirral are very good and quite encouraging. We are doing a lot of work there. We have a team in place. The economy is doing very well. The Prime Minister feels there is a sea change going on in the country.

"He goes out in the country and feels a different mood on the ground to the one at Westminster. He feels there is a very different atmosphere out there. South Wirral could be very uncomfortable for Tony Blair."

It could rank in importance alongside the pre-election by-elections in Hull, Bermondsey and Greenwich.

The last time the Tories held a seat in by-election was in Richmond, Yorkshire, when William Hague, the Secretary of State for Wales, was the victor in 1989.

A victory, even in a safe seat, after a string of by-election defeats, would give the Tories a boost of confidence to take on Labour in the general election, but a defeat, which must be counted as likely, could sap morale before the big battle. However, the Conservatives will be hoping that if they do lose, the swing to Labour will be limited.

The Tory high command was pressing for the by-election to be held before Christmas, to avoid a possible defeat being regarded as a pointer to the general election outcome.

Labour MPs were threatening to move the writ if the Tories delayed any longer. Mr Mawhinney said the Government would abide by the convention but he did not say when the writ would be moved.

Labour claimed the Tories had bowed to pressure. "Privately, they don't want to hold it. They couldn't continue with the embarrassment," said a Labour source. "It is a remarkable opportunity for us."

1992 result: Porter B (Con) 25,590 (50.8%); Southworth H (Lab) 17,407 (34.6%); Cunnife E (Lib-Dem) 6,581 (13.1%); Birchenough N (Green) 584 (1.2%); Griffiths G (NLP) 182 (0.4%)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Arts and Entertainment
music

News
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Sport
Sergio Aguero prepares for the game
football

Follow the latest events from this Champions League fixture

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice
music

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

MI Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – £25k-£35k

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

KS2 supply teacher

£80 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting fo...

English Teacher

£100 - £160 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: Temporar...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album