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MP Martin Bell: "I haven't been looking for another seat. People have come to me."
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Friday, 8 December, 2000, 15:10 GMT
Martin Bell to run for MP again
MP Martin Bell winning the Tatton seat.
Martin Bell says constituents asked him to stand again.
Martin Bell wishes that he'd never promised to retire after a single term as the Member of Parliament for Tatton.

The independent MP, who defeated Neil Hamilton in 1997, would love to stay on - and a recent local newspaper poll suggests that 82% of his constituents wish that he would.

But if you're an anti-sleaze candidate, a promise is a promise.

Instead, Martin Bell has announced today that he hopes to run for election in the Essex seat of Brentwood and Ongar, where the Tory Shadow Minister, Eric Pickles, has a 10,000 majority.

Mr Bell insists that there is no implied criticism of Mr Pickles himself.

Bitter controversy

However, there has been a bitter local controversy which has split Mr Pickles' local Conservative association: this follows the sudden arrival of a large group of evangelical Christians in one branch.
Eric Pickles, MP
MP for Brentwood and Ongar, Eric Pickles will fight Bell

Martin Bell says that the case raises issues of democratic process which justify his attempt to take over the seat. He insists that the first approach came not from him, but from worried local people.

Winning Brentwood will be much more difficult for the former BBC correspondent than taking on Neil Hamilton in Cheshire. Even though Mr Hamilton's majority was far larger, the prospective Liberal Democrat and Labour in 1997 stood down to give Mr Bell a clear run.

Today, both parties said they had no intention of standing down in Brentwood.

Eric Pickles, meanwhile, noted the fact that no allegations had been made against him, and concluded that Martin Bell should not be standing in his constituency.

Defended decision

In an interview with the World at One, Mr Bell defended his decision to seek a second term in Parliament. He said that he regretted his promise to the people of Tatton, but felt that it was important to have at least one independent voice in the Commons.

As for the Conservatives in Brentwood and Ongar, he said the official inquiry by the party leadership had failed to carry out a proper investigation into what he called 'entryism' - in an echo of the way Militant once infiltrated the Labour Party by swamping local branches in Liverpool.

In the end, it would be up to people in Brentwood and Ongar to pass judgement on his decision. 'It's called democracy,' he said.

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