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Friday, 8 December, 2000, 11:29 GMT
Bell: A promise too far?
Former Tory MP Neil Hamilton and Independent MP Martin Bell
Hamilton was an easier target for Bell
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder

Politics has clearly got to Martin Bell in a big way.

When he won Tatton at the last election the man-in-the-white-suit pledged he would serve in parliament for just one term.

With his mission to rid the Commons of former Tory MP Neil Hamilton, who was caught up in the cash for questions affair, accomplished he is now eager to run again.

Tatton was a one off election with both Labour and the Liberal Democrats happy to withdraw their candidates to rub the Tories' noses in it.

And it worked a treat. The Bell campaign got huge media coverage and was a constant reminded to voters of one of the main reasons they no longer loved the Tories.

Telling interventions

Since he entered parliament Mr Bell has struggled to make a major impact, as any independent would.

However, he has made a number of telling interventions not least when during the Bernie Ecclestone affair he expressed a fear that he feared New Labour was becoming as sleazy as the Tories.

He has also made a significant contribution over the Balkans wars.

But the Commons is a lonely place for a one-man-band. So it came as a bit of a surprise when it emerged more than a year ago that he regretted pledging not to stand for Tatton again.

Or perhaps it is not that surprising after all. Mr Bell is 62 and approaching retirement age, and he has clearly enjoyed his time in the Commons - some MPs take to it, others almost instantly hate it.

He also clearly believes he still has a crusade. This time it is not against sleaze but for the democratic process.

Unveiling his campaign he admitted he was a "rank outsider" and it is virtually certain none of the other parties will stand aside for him.

And the issue he is fighting, over alleged infiltration by evangelical Christians, is far less straight forward than sleaze.

He urged people to write him off as a "no hoper", presumably believing that can only boost his chances as the underdog.

But the reality is that he has a hugely difficult task unseating Eric Pickles whereas he would almost certainly have won Tatton for a second time.

Laugh it off

But his hands were tied on the evening he first deliberated standing against Mr Hamilton.

It started at the launch of a book of photographs of the Bosnia war by award-winning freelance Tom Stoddart, whose partner happens to be Labour frontbencher Kate Hoey.

As a former BBC war correspondent, Bell and Stoddart are friends and it was at a dinner after the launch on London's South Bank that Stoddart and others urged him to go for Tatton.

His immediate reaction was to laugh the suggestion off, but was quickly persuaded to go for it when the idea was supported by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

And his campaign became one of the highlights of the election.

The famous clash between Bell and the Hamiltons on Knutsford Heath, where the Hamiltons ambushed Bell and berated him for the best part of half an hour is one of the great images of the contest.

It can only be hoped that, if Mr Bell goes ahead with his challenge, the Brentwood and Ongar contest will prove just as eventful.

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See also:

08 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Bell set to run again
02 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Bell eyes up Tory seat
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