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The Christchurch By-election: Voting fortunes pinned on rapid economic recovery

THE SLOW pace of economic recovery was yesterday blamed by Sir Norman Fowler, the Conservative Party chairman, for the expected disastrous Tory defeat in the Christchurch by-election, writes Colin Brown.

Sir Norman said the message emerging from Christchurch and the Newbury by-elections was that the voters were concerned that the recovery had not happened as quickly as they had hoped. The Government's fortunes would improve with the economy, he said.

An NOP poll for the Independent on Sunday suggested that the Liberal Democrats were heading for a landslide victory, confirming the impressions on the street. It gave the Liberal Democrats 62 per cent, the Conservatives 31 per cent, Labour 5 per cent and others 2 per cent.

A Liberal Democrat landslide was indicated in an ICM poll in the Sunday Express, which suggested that there would be a 37 per cent swing from the Tories to the Liberal Democrats, compared to 28 per cent at Newbury. The Liberal Democrats need 20 per cent to win the seat, one of the safest Conservative seats in the country.

Tory MPs who were bused into the constituency to help with the party's campaign returned to Westminster convinced that their candidate, Rob Hayward would lose, in spite of running a good campaign. They were also convinced that Christchurch, where the Tories had a 23,015 majority, would revert to the party at the next general election.

Sir Edward Heath, a former Tory prime minister, will enter the Christchurch by-election campaign today in an attempt to stop the Tories going down to their worst defeat since the Second World War.

Although the Dorset constituency is fiercely pro-Thatcher, Sir Edward will be the main speaker at a campaign meeting with Mr Hayward.

(Photograph omitted)