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Tories attempt to influence changes in boundaries: Fears about Labour in Nottinghamshire

A BLATANT attempt to influence the drawing up of new local government boundaries to prevent Labour from taking control in Nottinghamshire has been uncovered.

The chairmen of the eight Conservative Associations in Nottinghamshire, outside the city, have unanimously agreed to put forward proposals as the best way forward 'from the Conservative Party's point of view'. The Local Government Commission, chaired by Sir John Banham, is examining ways of changing the two-tier structure of district and county councils.

The Independent has obtained a confidential letter written by Nigel Cutts, chairman of Rushcliffe Conservative Association, to Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor and MP for Rushcliffe, in Nottinghamshire, on behalf of the eight associations. He says they have decided unanimously to 'consider the best way forward from the Conservative Party's point of view, ie. what proposal . . . would give the best Conservative solution for the whole county.

'We compared the various options considered and rejected by the district, city and county councils from the electoral viewpoint, and it was instantly clear that some options would deliver an entirely Labour county.

'It is disappointing that the Tory-controlled district councils have not yet shown any inclination to think on a county-wide Conservative basis. To lose any districts to Labour-controlled or 'hung' unitary authorities would seriously weaken the Conservative Associations and their ability to campaign or raise funds, to the great detriment of the Westminster constituencies involved (Broxtowe, Gedling and Newark & Retford are all at risk here).'

Broxtowe is held by Jim Lester, Gedling by Andrew Mitchell, and Newark by Richard Alexander, all Conservative seats.

The letter goes on to say that in the absence of any proposals offering amalgamation of districts 'it is possible that the Commission itself would propose one of the solutions that could generate a totally Labour county. We would be forced to fight a rearguard action to overcome this, and would be fighting from a position of weakness'.

To forestall this possibility the Tory associations had made a private submission to the Commission for four unitary authorities based on the City of Nottingham, East Notts, West Notts and South Notts. It says that taking 1989 local election results as more normal than those in 1993, 'we would control two of the authorities (East and South) but very importantly 75 per cent of the land area of the county and covering all four Conservative Westminster constituencies' (the three mentioned plus Kenneth Clarke's seat).

The letter ends: 'I strongly urge you to support our submission by having a word with your colleagues in the DOE - John Gummer (Secretary of State for the Environment) and David Curry (local government minister) to whom I have also sent copies.'

Martin Gawith, Labour deputy leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, said the letter was a deliberate attempt to manipulate the review. 'This gerrymandering is a cynical attempt to bolster the strength of local Conservative parties and is directly in contravention of the declared aims of the review to obtain the best structures to deliver the most beneficial services at a local level. Though Conservative meddling has been suspected in the past, never has it been so blatant.'

Mr Cutts was unavailable for comment.