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The BBC's Carole Walker
"The sitting MP insists he works hard for all his constituents"
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Independent MP, Martin Bell
"Let the people decide - it is called democracy"
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Matthew Parris, Times columnist
"I do think there is a place for Martin Bell"
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Friday, 8 December, 2000, 11:48 GMT
Bell set to run again
Martin Bell
Martin Bell says he was asked to stand by constituents
The MP Martin Bell has put himself forward as an independent candidate for the Tory seat of Brentwood and Ongar in Essex at the next election.

Mr Bell said he was planning to stand in the constituency because of claims the local Conservative Party was undemocratic.

I think we can stir things up, involve young people, and make democracy democratic

Martin Bell
It has been alleged that 200 members of the charismatic Peniel Pentecostal Church have infiltrated the local Conservative Association voting members into key posts.

Mr Bell said he was concerned about the allegations and was putting himself forward as a candidate who would fight a "campaign for democracy".

The Church has denied the allegations and an investigation by Conservative Central Office found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Sitting MP Eric Pickles dismissed suggestions that the church, which has made claims of miraculous healing at its services, unduly dominated the association.

He added: "What we have essentially is a personality dispute inside the local party."

'Stir things up'

But Mr Bell said: "I do believe there was a problem of democratic process in the links between the Pentecostal Church and the Conservative Association."

He added: "I think we can stir things up, involve young people, and make democracy democratic."

Mr Bell said he was putting himself forward as a provisional candidate and would make a final decision on whether to stand when a general election is called.

"When an election is called I shall wait a bit. If the same level of support is there then as I perceive now then I will launch a campaign."

But he added: "I cannot imagine it melting away."

Mr Pickles said he was confident Martin Bell's challenge would fail.

"Brentwood and Ongar is a tolerant and friendly community which has repeatedly rejected the Independent Conservatives and their allegations through the ballot box and I am confident that they will treat Mr Bell in similar fashion."

Andrew Lansley, the Conservatives' shadow cabinet office minister, said Mr Bell's decision to run would not reflect badly on the party at the polls.

"I don't think it will have any impact on the Conservative Party at all," he said.

"I think people will be puzzled."

Mr Bell ran successfully against disgraced Tory Neil Hamilton in the 1997 general election in Tatton in Cheshire.

During the campaign, he promised he would stand down from the seat after one term. He says he now regrets that decision.

Tough challenge

With a Tory majority of 9,690 in 1997, Brentwood & Ongar is the party's 42nd safest seat.

Many believe it would prove a much tougher challenge to Mr Bell than Tatton.

In the last election, Labour and the Liberal Democrats withdrew their candidates - but they say they are not prepared to in Brentwood and Ongar.

The Liberal Democrat candidate David Kendall told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Tatton was totally different.

"We will definitely be fighting this seat to win.

"We are very confident that we can win this seat, and we have been campaigning very hard over a number of years on a number of local issues."

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See also:

08 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Bell: A promise too far?
02 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Bell eyes up Tory seat
27 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Bell calls for fresh Chinook inquiry
08 Mar 99 | UK Politics
Tatton contenders unveiled
18 Jan 00 | Europe
My 'friend' Arkan
16 Apr 99 | UK Politics
No way to break promise - Bell
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