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EDITIONS
Monday, 11 November, 2002, 16:38 GMT
Ex-Tory MP defects to Lib Dems
Harold Elletson (left) and Charles Kennedy (right)
Kennedy (right) was delighted with Elletson's defection
An ex-Conservative MP is defecting to the Liberal Democrats because he says the Tories are increasingly out-of-touch with young people.

Harold Elletson, who was MP for Blackpool North from 1992 to 1997, says he has been considering the move for some time, despite trying to become a Tory candidate until about two months ago.

Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith says his party has a message to sell

As he was formally welcomed into Lib Dems, Mr Elletson said the Tories were now "a form of alternative comedy rather than an alternative government".

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy said the defection showed Tories were voting with their feet and shifting towards the Lib Dems.

The defection comes after a week of Tory turmoil which prompted Iain Duncan Smith to issue his stark "unite or die" warning.

That was triggered when eight Tory MPs defied orders and voted in favour of allowing unmarried couples - heterosexual and gay - to adopt children.

The party's stance on the issue is understood to have been the last straw for Mr Elletson.


The authoritarian strike has overwhelmingly won out in the country and now prevails in the parliamentary Tory party

Harold Elletson
Tory defector
He withdrew from the Tory candidates list about two months ago and was interviewed in July to become the Tory candidate for Lancaster and Wyre.

Conservative sources said Mr Elletson had listed his political priorities then as "supporting good Conservative values; a strong Britain; lower taxes and opposing change for the sake of change".

Had he been successful, he would have been a "disillusioned" candidate, he said, denying suggestions he had been opportunistic.

Mr Elletson said his former party had got itself into a state from which it could find no way out.

More defectors to come?

The Conservatives had always had an authoritarian wing and a libertarian wing.

"Unfortunately, the authoritarian strike has overwhelmingly won out in the country and now prevails in the parliamentary party," he said.

That meant the party was out of touch, especially with young people.

Mr Elletson, who backed Ken Clarke's campaign for the Tory leadership, suggested other former MPs could follow his example.

"I know personally of two former colleagues of mine who were in Parliament from 1992 to 1997 who have told me that they regard themselves as Liberal Democrats," he said.


It is a significant mark of the way in which people are voting with their feet

Charles Kennedy
He did not know whether they would formally change sides.

Mr Elletson said Tory spokesmen used to be able to say votes for the Lib Dems were wasted but that was no longer possible.

He predicts the Tories could be reduced to a core of MPs centred in the south-east of England.

"The Liberal Democrats are a national party while the Conservatives are a regional one," he said.

Mr Elletson said he saw himself as a "positive European", but he did not currently support UK entry to the single currency.

But on that question too he took an "open mind" and said the Lib Dems' pro-European agenda was not an obstacle to Tories supporting the party.

On that question, Mr Kennedy joked: "As you know, I'm a cautious fellow - I believe in extolling my persuasive charm one step at a time."

The Lib Dem leader said he was delighted by Mr Elletson's move and hoped he would soon be joining the ranks of the party's MPs.

State of the party

Mr Kennedy said three former Lancashire Tory MPs had now joined his party.

"It is a significant mark of the way in which people are voting with their feet.

"They are looking at the state of the Conservative Party and forming the obvious conclusion that they are going nowhere."

The Lib Dem message was increasingly appealing to people who had voted Tory, suggested Mr Kennedy.

A Tory spokeswoman said the party did not want to comment on the defection.

On Sunday, Iain Duncan Smith insisted his warning to the party had worked and the Tories had a "fantastic opportunity" to expose government failures.


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06 Nov 02 | Politics
05 Nov 02 | Politics
06 Nov 02 | Politics
06 Nov 02 | Politics
07 Nov 02 | Politics
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