Anybody interested in the Blair’s majority in Sedgefield market should read this by Michael White, the Guardian’s political editor.
Tony Blair faces the prospect of a celebrity anti-war candidate seeking to unseat him in his constituency stronghold of Sedgfield at the coming general election if a suitably wholesome figure can be found to follow Martin Bell’s 1997 example.
The chances of Britain waking up on May 6 with a Labour government but no elected Labour leader remain largely in the realm of wishful thinking among anti-Blair activists.
But the prime minister lost over 7,000 votes in 2001 and his enemies believe that, if rival candidates stood aside, they could seriously damage Mr Blair’s 17,713 majority.
Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP who was the moving force behind the stalled attempt to impeach the prime minister over the way Britain went to war in Iraq, confirmed yesterday that exploratory talks are under way to find such a candidate.
The Roxy Music founder and ex-Labour supporter, Brian Eno, is said to be searching for someone like Mr Bell, the BBC war correspondent with the trademark white suit, who beat “sleaze MP” Neil Hamilton in Tatton in 1997, then stood down, as promised, in 2001.
Other MPs and celebrities who belong to the cross-party impeachment group, which is trying to revive the ancient political device for putting Mr Blair on trial, are said to be backing the move, among them Boris Johnson MP and writer Frederick Forsyth on the right, and the ex-Labour MP, George Galloway, on the left.
Mr Bell, who supported military intervention in former Yugoslavia, but not Iraq, has floated the possibility of an anti-Blair candidacy, albeit not himself.
Mr Price, MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, claims that there are two serious names under discussion, but refuses to divulge their names.
Ironically, Labour adopted the same tactic in 1997 when it gently encouraged Mr Bell to stand in Tatton as an independent.
“To succeed as an independent, you have to be well-known, although not necessarily nationally,” said Mr Bell yesterday. “You need a sitting MP who is in some way discredited. But if you are serious I don’t think anyone’s got a hope unless other parties stand their candidates down.”
Labour dismissed the idea as “a silly stunt”.
But the party’s campaign strategists are aware that many floating voters who flocked to Mr Blair in droves in 1997 now have doubts about his trustworthiness.
Mr Price said: “The critical thing is to find a candidate who is a national figure who encapsulates in their personality the message about trust and the need to restore public confidence in the political process.”