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Tuesday, 21 December, 1999, 18:50 GMT
Christine and I

Neil and Christine Hamilton were a tough political team

By political correspondent Nick Jones

Neil and Christine Hamilton were a formidable parliamentary partnership.

In their final months together at Westminster before the 1997 general election and Mr Hamilton's defeat in the Tatton constituency, they seemed to be inseparable.

The sight of the two of them, striding determinedly through the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, is something no political correspondent will forget.

As the storm clouds gathered, amid the swirling allegations of sleaze which clouded the final months of John Major's government, Christine, who was her husband's secretary and parliamentary assistant, was always at Neil's side.

Any journalist who dared approach him with a challenging question was only too aware of Mrs Hamilton's commanding presence and her ability to see off reporters who went too far.

Battle of Knutsford Heath

It was at the battle of Knutsford Heath that I first saw the hint of fear in their faces.

Despite the pressure on him to stand down, Mr Hamilton was determined to seek re-election as Tatton's conservative MP but Labour's spin doctors knew just how to twist the knife and keep allegations of sleaze at the top of the political agenda.

Martin Bell: Showed no fear
Martin Bell, the white-suited television journalist, was parachuted into the constituency to be an independent candidate who would stand against him as 'Mr Clean'.

The morning after Mr Bell's arrival, the Hamiltons arrived unannounced on the heath opposite his hotel.

Standing their ground

If Mrs Hamilton thought that with her piercing eyes and glaring looks that she could frighten off the battle hardened war reporter, she was mistaken.

Although the Hamiltons stood their ground and denied the allegations against them it was obvious that one of the safest Tory seats in the country was about to slip out of their hands.

Labour were taking no chances and their candidate was persuaded to stand down leaving a clear field for Mr Bell.

Labour had even lined up an alternative independent, John Stalker, the former deputy chief constable of Manchester Police, to fight the seat on anti-sleaze ticket should Mr Bell back down.

Fielding the media

As the election campaign proceeded, the Hamiltons had to retreat to their constituency home, the Old Rectory in Nether Alderley, and it was there that the media established their camp.

I will always remember the great aplomb with which Christine handled the reporters, photographers and television crews giving us strict instruction on where to stand.

Occasionally we were all allowed up the drive for a carefully controlled photo-opportunity where Mr Hamilton delivered a well-thought through soundbite.

For some reason Tory wives, unlike their Labour or Liberal Democrat counterparts, can often become highly-effective political operators.

There is no doubt that without her consistent and loyal support Mr Hamilton might never have fought on for so long, picked himself up after his disastrous parliamentary defeat and then battled on through the courts.

Christine Hamilton was in a class of her own. Her devotion to her husband was undoubtedly something of a legend at Westminster.

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See also:
21 Dec 99 |  UK
Hamilton: I'm broke
21 Dec 99 |  UK
Hamilton verdict - reaction at-a-glance
21 Dec 99 |  UK
Mobil may have sealed Hamilton's fate
21 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Profile: Neil Hamilton
21 Dec 99 |  UK
Profile: Mohamed al-Fayed
21 Dec 99 |  UK
George Carman: King of the court
21 Dec 99 |  UK
'Invincible' Christine battles on

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