The Christchurch By-election: Tories take underdog role lightly

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Indy Politics
JOHN PRESCOTT, Labour's transport spokesman, yesterday committed the cardinal by-election sin of honesty, as he conceded defeat on the day his candidate's Christchurch campaign was launched.

The atmosphere surrounding the Conservative camp was far from triumphant as Sir Norman Fowler, launching the Tory campaign, insisted: 'We're comfortable with the position where the opinion polls show us as underdogs.' They would come back to win, he said.

Thursday's Gallup/Daily Telegraph poll showed the Conservatives in third place nationally, behind the Liberal Democrats, while a record low of 18.4 per cent of 1,067 electors questioned felt John Major was the best person to lead the country.

Speaking after the conclusion of the G7 summit in Tokyo, Mr Major declared he would not waste time worrying about polls.

'Politics is personalised. That is the nature of life . . . That is part of the baggage people get used to and one does not need to let it worry one.'

But despite Sir Norman's insistence that the Christchurch contest would not be a referendum on Mr Major's future, his leadership is likely to figure heavily in the campaign along with VAT on fuel and pensioners' incomes.

The poll indicates that Rob Hayward, a former Conservative MP, will be hard-pressed to beat Diana Maddock, the Liberal Democrat, despite the 23,015 majority bequeathed by the late Robert Adley.

Labour's Nigel Lickley, Mr Prescott said, was 'a very good candidate and we'll be fighting very hard, but I think it would be unrealistic to assume that we could win that seat'.

Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, was in more combative form, as he denounced the absence of Mr Hayward and his team from a small businessmen's breakfast attended by the other main contenders. The Tories said it clashed with their timetable and might breach election law.

'I've just seen Norman Fowler doing an interview for the cameras just outside this building. It is a calculated insult to the small businessmen inside,' Mr Cook said.

'Historically small businesses have supported the Tory Party. The fact that they have lost the courage to turn up today shows the degree to which they have lost the support of small businesses and lost their support in this by-election.'

A number of Conservative businessmen and women attending the breakfast appeared fed up with the Government, with some of them predicting Mr Hayward's defeat.

Mr Cook went on to warn that small post offices serving villages and the elderly could be forced to close if the Government privatised the Post Office.

1992 election: R Adley (Con) 36,627 (63.5 per cent); D Bussey (Lib Dem) 13,612 (23.6); A Lloyd (Lab) 6,997 (12.1); J Barratt (Nat Law) 243 (0.4); A Wareham (Raving) 175 (0.3). Con maj 23,015. Electorate 71,469. Turn-out 80.9 per cent.

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