Mawhinney's defective ploy

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The story of the "defector who wasn't" should have been good news for Brian Mawhinney yesterday. Instead, the Tory chairman found himself fleeing into the conference centre pursued by journalists.

When his recruit admitted at a seaside news conference that he had never been a Labour member, Dr Mawhinney cut questions short and fled to the hall with his charge. Marco Forgione, 26, a caterer from Yeovil, once worked for the Labour MP Keith Vaz but a Tory news release saying he had once "joined the socialists" turned out to be misleading.

Asked if he had ever been a Labour member, Mr Forgione said he was "a firm supporter" before admitting he had never held a party card. Later, he said he once voted Labour in a local election and had "abstained" in the 1992 election.

He had been a "parliamentary assistant, adviser and speechwriter" to Mr Vaz, a spokesman on environment issues. Mr Vaz issued a statement saying: " ... While he briefly worked with me in 1993-94 he showed no interest in politics. He was never involved in any party political issues."

Mr Forgione said he had "very much enjoyed working" for Mr Vaz but did not like Labour's "whole ethos". Prompted by a Tory press officer, he singled out the European Social Chapter and national minimum wage.

The story later took a new twist as it emerged Mr Forgione's non-defection had occurred some time ago. Yeovil Liberal Democrats said he had been an active Tory locally for about two years. "He is a frequent correspondent in the local paper in support of the Conservative cause, often writing from the local Tory HQ," said a Liberal Democrat spokesman. Mr Forgione said he joined the party last year.