Challenger could spell ballot paper trouble for Tories' Davis

DAVID Davis, the shadow home secretary widely tipped to succeed Michael Howard as the Conservatives’ leader, could be deposed at the general election because a candidate with a confusingly similar name is set to challenge him.

The intervention of David Davies, the candidate for Veritas, Robert Kilroy-Silk’s new party, could deal a blow to Mr Davis’s ambitions and deprive the party of a high-profile personality - without Veritas even winning the seat.

It is the Liberal Democrats, running a close second to the Tories in the Humberside constituency of Haltemprice and Howden, who have the most to gain from Mr Davies standing.

Mr Davis’s majority of more than 7,500 was slashed to just 1,903 at the last general election, giving him a slim 4.3 per cent margin over the Lib Dems.

With a single vowel separating the names of the two men, the Veritas candidate will have the advantage of having his name above Mr Davis’s on the ballot paper, as by law candidates must be listed alphabetically.

The shadow home secretary has insisted his constituents will be savvy enough to know the difference. "We live in a democracy and any party is free to field any candidate they choose. There is, however, a certain irony in the fact that a person who was planning to stand for parliament on the basis of a subterfuge is standing for the ‘truth’ party."

Mr Davis’s camp has accused Veritas of using dirty tricks to try to complicate the contest, but a spokesman for the Tory MP insisted he was "relaxed about it as he believes his constituents are too smart to be taken in by this".

The Veritas candidate was also playing down the similarity of the two men’s names. He insisted that, although he lived 50 miles away from the constituency, he had a valid claim to know it well as his in-laws’ family had lived there.

"It is a winnable seat," he said. "I don’t want people to get confused with the name and vote Tory but there is an obvious connection with the name. I didn’t choose my name, it was given to me at birth."

Mr Davies, a rail engineer and father of four, planned to stand against Mr Davis for the UK Independence Party at the election until Mr Kilroy-Silk split the group by forming Veritas.

Veritas has not formally selected its candidates yet but Mr Davies is "hopeful" of winning the nomination.

No-one is more enthusiastic about Mr Davies’s eventual selection than the Liberal Democrat candidate, Jon Neal.

"If I am honest, it will bode well for me as the candidate in second place," Mr Neal said. "Having another candidate with a similar name to the incumbent will be an entertaining sideline and anything that takes votes away from the Conservatives could help us win."

This would be a sweet revenge for the Lib Dems, who lost out on the European Parliament seat for Devon and East Plymouth in 1994 after a challenge from the "Literal Democrats".

More than 10,000 people voted for the party’s candidate, Richard Huggett, who was listed on the ballot paper above the official Lib Dem candidate, Adrian Sanders.

This delivered a shock victory to the Tories’ Giles Chichester, who won the seat by 700 votes.

Mr Sanders, now the Lib Dem MP for Torbay, failed to have the election result overturned in a court battle that cost the party 100,000.

His defeat did, however, prompt the Electoral Commission to introduce the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998, which banned "lookalike" parties where a name could confuse voters.

Mr Sanders said Mr Davis, who has been in parliament since 1997, would be unlikely to lose his seat on the basis of a similarly named challenger alone. "Most people vote for the party rather than just the name of the candidate," he said.

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