The Liberal Democrats Spring Conference: Potential candidate who may have God on his side: Party holds spring conference in Nottingham as preparations begin for the Christchurch by-election

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The Independent Online
THE REVEREND Dennis Bussey, 61, has the prospect of becoming the Liberal Democrats' by-election victor at Christchurch. But he has offered to make way for a 'better man or woman'.

Mr Bussey, a methodist minister and probation officer in the constituency, was the Liberal Democrat candidate in the 1992 election and would like a second chance. But he admits he is not ambitious.

'I am not the best person to judge whether I am the best person to fight the by-election,' he said.

'Last time I was fighting the seat against a very popular member of Parliament (Robert Adley, whose death has caused the by-election). I was fighting without any real hope of winning it. I was fighting for the sheer hell of it because that is what politics is about in my book.'

Party managers have discussed the selection of the by- election candidate in private at the spring conference in Nottingham but Mr Bussey must wait until next Monday to find out if he has been successful. But he suspects he may have God on his side. 'Funny things have been happening,' he said. 'I was due to go into hospital for major surgery. They told me I had to cancel all my engagements. I paid all my bills, and left my diary free. The surgeon gave me a very thorough overhaul on my stomach, and he said, 'You are clear'. I am a little bewildered by this. As a Christian I cannot help but wonder whether someone else was managing things. In these circumstances, I do look for guidance . . . My diary is completely empty.' Would Mr Bussey be able to withstand the strain? He said he was a 'branch plucked from the burning', like John Wesley, who survived the burning of his parents' house as a child.

His favourite hymn is Wesley's 'Now I have found the ground wherein sure my salvation will remain . . .'

Mr Bussey takes weddings and funerals at Longham United Reform Church, where he has helped to double the congregation. He is a mild- mannered man, but admits to releasing some of the anger he feels at injustice when he is in the pulpit. 'My Christianity is fun. I tell the congregation: 'You are all too conservative'. But it is Bible preaching. If they don't get the Bible from the pulpit, they are not going to get it from anywhere else. It is not a women's meeting or Thought for the Day.'

But Mr Bussey is also regarded as a bit of a rebel. He started out in the hotel trade, before becoming a minister, and refused to sign the pledge against strong drink.

Ruth, his wife, retained her Liberal Democrat seat on Dorset County Council on 6 May with an increased majority over the Tories.

Mr Bussey would need a 20 per cent swing to win, but there have been Liberal Democrat gains from the Tories across the West Country. The clergy of the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic priests and clergy in the Church in Wales are disqualified, but clergy from non-comformist churches may become MPs.

1992 General Election result: Robert Adley, (C), 36,627; The Rev Dennis Bussey, (Lib Dem), 13,612; Alan Lloyd, (Lab), 6,997; J Barrat (Natural Law Party), 243; A Wareham, (Chauvinistic Raving Alliance), 175. C majority; 23,015.

(Photograph omitted)