Bell backs Brentwood Lib Dem

FORMER Independent MP Martin Bell will throw today his political clout behind Liberal Democrat efforts to unseat a leading member of Michael Howard's shadow team.

By Graham Dines

FORMER Independent MP Martin Bell will throw today his political clout behind Liberal Democrat efforts to unseat a leading member of Michael Howard's shadow team.

Mr Bell, the "man in the white suit" who unsuccessfully fought Brentwood and Ongar in the 2001 General Election, will tell his supporters to back Lib Dem candidate Gavin Stollar in an all-out attempt to defeat sitting MP Eric Pickles.

He will spell out his support at a press conference in Chipping Ongar being organised by a group called Martin Bell's Legacy, comprising his former backers in the constituency.


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Mr Bell was persuaded to run in 2001 by disaffected Conservative Party members, who were concerned at the alleged influence of the Peniel Pentecostal Church on the Brentwood and Ongar Conservative Association.

The hope was that Labour and the Lib Dems would withdraw from the contest - as they had done in 1997 when Mr Bell famously stood against and defeated disgraced Tory MP Neil Hamilton in Tatton on an anti-sleaze ticket.

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Mr Bell stood down from the Cheshire seat at the 2001 election and switched to Brentwood and Ongar, but both Labour and the Lib Dems refused to do a deal and he failed by 2,821 votes to unseat Mr Pickles.

He stood as an Independent candidate in the East of England Euro constituency in last year's European Parliament elections on a platform opposing closed list proportional representation.

But Mr Bell, who was born in Suffolk and worked all over the world as a war correspondent for the BBC, was defeated and announced his intention not to seek elected office again.

The Labour Party said it would not stand aside to give the Lib Dems an opportunity to defeat Mr Pickles, who speaks for the Tories in the Commons on local government.

A spokesman for the constituency party added: "Our aims for Brentwood and Ongar are completely different to the Lib Dems and voters must be given an opportunity to show their support for the Labour government."

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