Burns defiant in Chelmsford

MORE than 20 years ago, Norman St John Stevas came perilously close to losing Chelmsford to the Liberals and ever since, the Lib Dems have eyed the Essex county town as a prize within their grasp.

MORE than 20 years ago, Norman St John Stevas came perilously close to losing Chelmsford to the Liberals and ever since, the Lib Dems have eyed the Essex county town as a prize within their grasp.

St John Stevas stood down at the 1987 election, since when Chelmsford has sent Simon Burns to Parliament - in 1992, his majority reached the giddy heights of 18,260, a far cry from Norman's 378 scrape in 1983.

In 1997, the boundaries were altered, the constituency encompassed Tory havens such as Stock, and any hopes the Lib Dems had of routing the Conservatives evaporated. Indeed, in the 2001 election, Labour actually finished ahead of the Lib Dems, although last May, the Lib Dems returned to second place.

Boundary changes next time return Chelmsford to similar pre 1997 boundaries - and in this year's county council elections, all electoral divisions in the new seat elected Liberal Democrats. Charles Kennedy's troops scent blood.


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Add to this Chelmsford West Labour Party Secretary John Leslie's assertion that the new seat will be a scrap between Labour and the Lib Dems, with the Tories in third place and one would think that Mr Burns would be worried.

Not a bit of it - and he has defiantly announced that, if the local Tories want him to, he will fight Chelmsford at the next election.

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So no chicken run for Simon Burns. If he'd announced he would fight elsewhere, Liberal Democrats would have flapped their arms and run round Chelmsford town centre squawking “chicken.” Now that he says he's staying put, he'll be the target of Lib Dem taunts that his time as an MP is nearly up.

In a letter to Yvonne Spence, the chairman of Chelmsford West Tories, Mr Burns insists: “The new parliamentary seat is a good Conservative seat.” Time, of course, will tell, and the prospects for the Tories here and elsewhere depend on which direction their new leader takes them.

One thing is certain - if the Tories don't hold Chelmsford at the next election, it will not be unreasonable to seriously question whether the Conservative Party has any future at all.

RESPONDING to Home Office proposals to make it illegal to possess violent and abusive pornographic images downloaded from the Internet, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said: “The Government must avoid creating a nanny state or introducing laws that can't be enforced. It must also provide a very clear and succinct definition of what constitutes violent and abusive pornography.”

The definition seems simple to me. If a sexual activity is legal and the participants are volunteers, then there's no reason for adults not to be allowed to possess the images at home.

I would hope even Mr Oaten accepts that the on-line murder of a child or the gory mutilation of a man or woman after being gang raped constitutes violent and abusive pornography.

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