Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Tories 'would fight' for Huhne seat

Baroness Warsi

Tories will "fight hard" to win Liberal Democrat ex-minister Chris Huhne's seat of Eastleigh if he is forced to step down because of his court case, Conservative co-chairman Baroness Warsi has said.

The former energy secretary is facing a charge of perverting the course of justice following allegations that he asked his ex-wife to take driving penalty points on his behalf, and will lose his seat if he is convicted and handed a sentence of 12 months or more in jail.

But Lady Warsi suggested that her former Cabinet colleague may decide to quit Parliament regardless of what happens in his court case.

And she said the Conservatives would not hold back in order to give their coalition partners an easy ride in the Hampshire seat, which is high on their target constituency list.

Lady Warsi told The House magazine: "It is a target seat and I think we would fight it hard and we would fight it to win. I don't think the Lib Dems are dug in there. It's winnable. We will do everything we can to win it."

Any by-election in Eastleigh would be a test of the coalition, as it would be the first Westminster poll in a seat held by either of the two parties since the general election and the first in which the Liberal Democrat and Conservative candidates were the front-runners.

Eastleigh was held comfortably by Conservatives for decades until 1994, when it was seized by the Lib Dems in one of a string of by-election triumphs during John Major's administration. Mr Huhne won it by a wafer-thin majority of 568, which he increased to 3,864 in 2010.

Asked whether Conservatives were prepared for a by-election battle, Lady Warsi said: "The party is ready for any by-election at any time. When a by-election is called in Eastleigh, then of course we will kick into action. If a by-election is called in Eastleigh then yeah, the party will be ready to cope."

She added: "I think the backdrop of how that election is called ... it depends on what the outcome of the case is. The by-election could be called because, you know, Chris might stand down irrespective of what happens at the court case."

On relations between the two coalition parties, she said: "Politics is always there in the background, but sniping for the sake of sniping and opportunism ... doesn't go down well. It's not good for team spirit: you're either in it or you're not in it, and if you're in it you can't be half-way in it or you can't say 'I'm going to be in for the bits that I like and then not choose the bits that I won't'. Brits don't like foul play."