Norman Lamont, whose constituency has been scrapped in boundary changes, will tonight begin a fight for political survival described by fellow Tories as "touch and go".
The former Chancellor will challenge his nearest neighbour, fellow Conservative Richard Tracey, to represent the new constituency of Kingston and Surbiton.
In a duel that began in friendship but threatens to turn sour, each of the MPs will try to convince a meeting of up to 1,000 paid-up Tory members that he is the best man to represent them in Parliament. Under Conservative Party rules, Mr Lamont, whose Kingston-upon-Thames constituency will cease to exist before the next election, is entitled to challenge for any seat that absorbs any part of his former territory.
That includes Kingston and Surbiton, but its majority incumbent, Mr Tracey, declared himself "surprised" yesterday that Mr Lamont had chosen to take him on.
"All of my old constituency [Surbiton] is intact and its electorate forms 65 per cent of the new constituency," he said. "Norman is entitled to challenge for it, but I was surprised that he did. The closing date for applications was 6 September but I saw him on the 5th and he didn't even mention it.
"I've seen him several times since, but he hasn't said anything. We just don't talk about it. He's written to me now, but the whole thing is a bit unsettling."
Each man is considered popular in his own constituency, but Mr Lamont's open criticism of John Major and his support for John Redwood's summer challenge for the party leadership is proving to be a double-edged sword.
When rumours began circulating that Mr Lamont might apply for the new Vale of York constituency, one of its branch secretaries, Michael Bilton, was reported as saying: "Tony Blair has more chance."
In Surbiton, however, there was a strong anti-Major feeling during the summer which could stand Mr Lamont in good stead.
"There is so much apathy at the moment that it might persuade some people to vote for him," said Eunice Paxman, president of the Kingston and Surbiton Conservative Association. "At the time of the challenge, we were split over it but there was a big move for Mr Redwood. It may actually stand Mr Lamont in good stead.
"It isn't possible to say how the vote will go here but it will be touch and go. Both men are very popular."
If he fails to be selected, Mr Lamont may have to look elsewhere to secure his political future. His name has already been linked with a variety of seats across the country.
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