Tories begin the scramble for safest seat

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Political Correspondent

The battle for the country's safest and richest Tory seat got underway in earnest yesterday as would-be candidates revealed they would be challenging former minister Sir Nicholas Scott for the newly-drawn Kensington & Chelsea.

Sir John Wheeler, the junior Northern Ireland minister whose Westminster North constituency is disappearing in boundary changes, confirmed that he had applied, but ministers and former ministers are not alone in entering the fray.

Daniel Moylan, 39, a Kensington & Chelsea councillor and trustee of the constituency association, is one of two strong local contenders for the plum Tory stronghold. Another is prominent local Tory Joan Hannam, the council leader and a councillor for the last 25 years.

The three are likely to be just the first of a string of senior Tories to put their names forward after the local association decided last week to make Sir Nicholas, currently MP for Chelsea, compete for the new seat after his recent arrest over an accident involving a toddler. It is still not clear whether charges will be brought against the former minister for disabled people.

Other possible candidates include Sir George Young, Secretary of State for Transport, and James Arbuthnot, whose current seats are also disappearing. Norman Lamont, who is seeking to oust Richard Tracey in the newly-drawn but ultra-safe Kingston and Surbiton, might also try his hand. The final selection process will take place on 10 November.

A vitriolic fight may be in prospect in the Kingston and Surbiton seat, for which Mr Lamont can apply under Tory party rules because his neighbouring Kingston upon Thames seat is being axed.

Mr Lamont's decision to apply surprised local activists. Mr Tracey said yesterday that his existing Surbiton constituency accounted for up to 65 per cent of the votes in the new seat. Mr Tracey said: "I shall fight on my record locally, and on my loyalty to the Conservative Party."

The local party is not expected to throw open the contest before the selection is made by a general meeting of members on 5 October.