Newbury by-election: Buoyant Lamont in bathtub mood: Chancellor brings some optimism to Tory campaign

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Indy Politics
NORMAN Lamont, the Chancellor, came close to singing in the rain in Newbury yesterday after extolling the virtues of his economic policy and the Conservative by-election candidate, Julian Davidson.

'I couldn't be more happy,' he said from under a large umbrella after a campaign visit to the Micro Focus Group computer software company.

'Je ne regrette rien' was his response when questioned at the earlier news conference over what he regretted most - singing in the bath after Black Wednesday, or promising 'green shoots' of recovery.

The bath tune centred on 'everything's going my way', a line from 'Oh What a Beautiful Morning' in Oklahoma - a scene replicated at Thursday's press conference on hay bales at the Lambourn racing stables of Peter Walwyn.

That optimistic mood was clearly detectable yesterday at Tory campaign HQ, buoyed by the happy coincidence of improved unemployment figures with what could otherwise have been a high-risk strategy of inviting the most unpopular Chancellor in recent history.

Even then, the Tory machine still left nothing to chance as Mr Lamont was carefully insulated from meeting any Newbury voters. The Chancellor, for his part, felt the need to write and distribute a lengthy letter to Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader.

The rant against Mr Ashdown, continued by Mr Lamont in person at the news conference, was over VAT on fuel, which the Chancellor claimed the Liberal Democrats had advocated in a 1991 policy paper. Mr Ashdown should apologise to the voters of Newbury for misleading them, he said. The effort proved largely wasted after Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrat trade and industry spokesman, pointed out that the paper was only a consultation document and not party policy.

But Mr Lamont still scored heavily on the musical allusions. Asked what song he suggested the Chancellor should now sing, David 'Dave' Rendel, so dubbed by Peter Mandelson, the Labour candidate minder - ventured after a pause: 'Je regrette beaucoup'.

In the absence of any such title in the annals of popular songwriting, Mr Rendel could fall back on 'Pennies from Heaven' for Mr Lamont, while reserving the Dave Clark's Five 'Glad All Over' for himself if he wins the by-election.

Labour's Steve Billcliffe is destined to keep on singing Harry Lyme's theme from The Third Man, but that is a whole lot better than the likely fate of John Browne, the Conservative Party Rebel candidate, who was supplanted as the official Tory at the last election by Gerry Malone, Mr Davidson's minder and a deputy chairman of the Conservative Party.

Mr Browne, Mr Malone observed yesterday, was about to make another contribution to the Exchequer in the form of a lost deposit. Or as the Battle Hymn of the Republic puts it 'John Brown's body lies a'moulding in the grave'.

1992 General election result: Judith Chaplin (C) 37,135; David Rendel (Lib Dem) 24,778; Richard Hall (Lab) 3,962; Jim Wallis (Green) 539. C maj 12,357.