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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 March, 2005, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Sacked Tory claims legal backing
Howard Flight MP speaks to journalists gathered outside his home
Mr Flight wants local Tories in Arundel to decide
Sacked MP Howard Flight has said his lawyers believe Tory leader Michael Howard cannot stop him standing for the party at the election.

Mr Flight said his QC believed only Tory members in his Arundel and South Downs constituency could remove him.

But local Tory officers insist Mr Flight cannot be their candidate and are starting to look for a substitute.

The MP landed in trouble after apparently suggesting the Tories planned extra spending cuts.

He has quit as deputy Tory chairman but still wants to be one of the party's MPs.

Legal battle?

Tory headquarters say Mr Flight cannot stand as a Conservative because he is no longer an approved candidate.

But Mr Flight told reporters outside his London home he had received advice from a QC who specialised in such issues.

The legal opinion is now being sent to the chairman of Arundel Conservatives and the national Tory leadership.

It is not about the ability of people to express a different view
Michael Howard

"I hope, having read it, that they will accept what it says which is that the matter has to be resolved by the members of my own Conservative association," he said.

"I'm sure that many of them will feel, whatever they may think of me personally, that I shouldn't stay. But they must be given their legal right to do so, and I abide by their decision."

Earlier Mr Flight's allies claimed to have enough support to trigger an extraordinary general meeting of the local association to discuss the MP's future.

But Russell Tanguay, the association's agent, said: "Howard Flight is ineligible to stand as a Conservative Party candidate.

"The association is in the process of selecting a new candidate."

Timetable

The association's executive will meet on Monday when a shortlist of candidates is expected to be discussed. There will be a full meeting of local Tories two days later.

At a news conference, Mr Howard said he had played by the party's rules in ousting Mr Flight as a candidate and said the Conservative constitution was "very clear".

Michael Howard
Mr Howard says the legal position on his power is clear

The Tory leader, who argues he is ensuring honesty, said: "We do not say one thing in private and another thing in public."

But Labour election campaign coordinator Alan Milburn said the Tories were in "turmoil" because Mr Flight had exposed their hidden plans.

Liberal Democrat chairman Matthew Taylor said: "Whilst I disagree with Howard Flight's views, it seems extraordinary to sack somebody for telling the truth."

'Support status'

It has also emerged Mr Howard has suspended Slough's constituency Conservative association for refusing to deselect its candidate.

Adrian Hilton had suggested the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, under John Major's government, was an act of treason.

Slough Conservative Association has now been placed on "support status" and is being run from Conservative campaign headquarters, says a senior party spokesman.

Mr Hilton on Tuesday said he was considering taking legal action.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Howard Flight speaks to the BBC



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