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Friday, 12 January, 2001, 14:27 GMT
Blow for Bruno's election plan
Frank Bruno arrives at Milton Keynes Theatre
Bruno: Gearing up for election fight
Former boxer Frank Bruno has been dealt a blow over his next planned fight - standing for Parliament at the general election.

The former heavyweight champion said he wants to contest the traditionally safe Tory seat of Brentwood and Ongar against independent MP Martin Bell.

But his idea to stand as a Conservative has been rapidly challenged - by the sitting MP and the Conservative Party itself.

Don't be a plank, vote for Frank

Frank Bruno
Originally Bruno said he was only "thinking about" standing.

He did not tell BBC Radio Essex which political party this would be for and would only say he had been in discussions with "some people".

But later on Friday, as he arrived at Milton Keynes Theatre where he is starring in the pantomime Goldilocks and the Three Bears, he declared he would be standing as a Tory against Mr Bell.

He added: "Don't be a plank, vote for Frank."

And in reference to Mr Bell: "Any time he's ready I'm on stand-by."

Eric Pickles
Pickles: Stunned at former boxer's decision
But current Brentwood and Ongar MP, Tory Eric Pickles, said he was stunned Bruno intended to stand as a Conservative.

Mr Pickles insisted he had already been selected as the official Tory candidate.

He was backed by Conservative Central Office which rejected Bruno's plan.

A spokesman said: "He would have to stand as an independent."

Earlier Mr Pickles said Bruno would "add a bit of glamour to the campaign".

"But there is world of difference between receiving applause in pantomime and standing on the hustings. I don't think he will enjoy the experience."

Last month former BBC journalist Mr Bell announced his "provisional" intention to stand in the Essex seat at the general election, which could be in May.

Martin Bell: Ready for battle
Bruno, who lives in the constituency, said at the time he was delighted by the news as he thought Mr Bell was a "very good guy".

Mr Bell returned the compliment on hearing of his new opponent.

"I like Frank, he's a great guy and he has every right to stand.

"I think it's a good thing when a candidate has a career outside politics and brings their experiences into the public sphere."

Mr Bell said he admired the former boxer's work in the community - but admitted he was not sure about the precise identity of his political beliefs.

"I covered lots of his fights in Las Vegas many years ago.

"I don't know where he stands exactly (on political issues) but it would be interesting to find out ... I have talked to Frank only about boxing."

Local turmoil

In Brentwood and Ongar the local Conservative party has been in turmoil because of claims that it is undemocratic.

Around 200 members of the Peniel Pentecostal Church joined and voted their members into a number of key posts.

Although some of the ousted Tories left to form their own Independent Conservative group, a Central Office inquiry found no evidence of any impropriety.

The seat was held for the Tories at the last general election by Mr Pickles with a majority of 9,690, making it the sixth safest Conservative seat in the country.

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See also:

12 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Bruno considers election fight
08 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Bell: A promise too far?
02 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Bell eyes up Tory seat
08 Mar 99 | UK Politics
Tatton contenders unveiled
08 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Bell set to run again
20 Jun 00 | UK
Frank Bruno marriage ends
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