Page last updated at 07:35 GMT, Sunday, 7 March 2010

Lord Tebbit challenges backing for Speaker John Bercow

Lord Tebbit: "There is no obligation upon Conservatives to support Mr Bercow"

Conservatives should be free to vote for whoever they like in Speaker John Bercow's Buckingham seat, former Tory chairman Lord Tebbit says.

His party is officially backing their former MP in the general election, but as Mr Bercow is standing as the Speaker there is no official Tory candidate.

Lord Tebbit said there was "no obligation upon Conservatives to support Mr Bercow".

David Cameron has previously urged all Tories to vote for Mr Bercow.

Mr Bercow was a Tory MP before becoming Speaker of the House of Commons last year.

UK Independence Party candidate Nigel Farage is among those expected to stand in the Buckingham contest.

The general election is expected to be held on 6 May.

'No business'

In an interview to be broadcast on BBC One's The Politics Show on Sunday, Lord Tebbit said people were free "to vote for or indeed to campaign for, any candidate who comes close to their own views".

"There is not a Conservative candidate, so they have to look around. And they will make a choice," he said.

I don't think he would really be able to describe himself as a Conservative any more, even if he were not the Speaker
Lord Tebbit

"I don't think it's any business of the Conservative Party to instruct even its activists and members in who they should vote for in that sense, or indeed campaign for.

"Mr Bercow is not a Conservative candidate. He is an independent candidate. And it's, in my view, not the business of the Conservative Party to support independent candidates."

Lord Tebbit's comments are at odds with party leader Mr Cameron, who last month told the Bucks Herald newspaper: "In this election I would certainly urge all Conservatives - and, indeed, supporters of all parties and of none - to vote for the Speaker, John Bercow."

However, Lord Tebbit said Mr Bercow should not even be considered a Conservative.

He said: "I remain a friend of John's and I have been for 20-odd years.

"He did cast himself in my mould, indeed. But he has been reworked in recent years. I don't think he would really be able to describe himself as a Conservative any more, even if he were not the Speaker."

Mr Farage told The Politics Show that Buckingham voters "thought what they had was a traditional old-fashioned Conservative and now they have someone whose politics are much nearer to New Labour. That's what the row's about".

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