Howard faces legal action threat over Flight's expulsion

Key points

• Howard Flight threatening legal action over his expulsion

• Many senior Tories view Howard's 'nuclear option' as being too harsh

• It has also emerged that the Tory campaign HQ has been swept for bugs

Key quote

"Politics is about judgment as well as logic, and many Tories will question if Flight should be virtually expelled from parliament" - LORD TEBBIT

Story in full MICHAEL Howard was threatened with legal action last night over his decision to expel Howard Flight from the parliamentary party, as the Tories’ election struggles escalated.

Mr Flight, the former deputy chairman at the centre of the spending cuts row, was consulting his lawyers after the Tory leader’s unprecedented move to block him from standing as a Conservative candidate at the general election.

The move came as the "dirty tricks" war between Labour and the Tories plunged to new depths yesterday, when it emerged the opposition had its campaign headquarters swept for bugs after a string of leaks about their alleged policies.

Mr Flight, a millionaire former banker, signalled that he was prepared to sue Mr Howard over plans to stop him from standing as a Tory candidate for his Arundel and South Downs seat, which he won by more than 13,000 votes at the last election.

"I was unanimously approved as a candidate five weeks ago. I am seeking to address a general meeting of the local party and there should then be a vote as to whether they want to keep me as the candidate for Arundel and South Downs.

"Apart from anything else, whatever the result it is crucially important that this is seen to be done properly," said Mr Flight.

However, the Tory leader defended his ruthless decision yesterday, saying it was in the interests of the party and the country to draw a line under the row. The decision had been an "unpleasant one", said Mr Howard, but he could not afford to keep Mr Flight in his post after he misrepresented Tory plans.

"I have a duty to do what I think is the right thing for the party and the right thing for the country," he said.

Mr Flight’s defiance had been a "terrible let-down" and Mr Howard could not tolerate anyone "misrepresenting my view, misrepresenting what we do in government and suggesting that we say one thing in private and another thing in public. That’s not the way I do politics."

A Tory source stated that the party was confident it could surmount any legal challenge from Mr Flight.

"We would not have acted to remove him had we not known our constitution inside out," said the source.

Internal rumblings over the axing of Mr Flight spilled over into public when Lord Tebbit, a former Tory party chairman, accused the leader of taking the "nuclear option".

The Tory grandee warned that it remained to be seen whether Mr Howard’s response would "inflate a storm in a teacup to a political gale".

"Politics is about judgment as well as logic, and many Tories will question if Flight should be virtually expelled from parliament," he wrote in a Sunday paper.

Lord Tebbit also supported Mr Flight, his former aide, in signalling that the Tory "savings" plans could go further than the 35 billion already trailed by shadow ministers.

Thatcherites who favoured a smaller state and more ambitious spending cuts would seize on Mr Flight’s demise as a fall-out from the battle between modernisers and traditionalists in the party, he warned.

"They [Thatcherites] believe voters could be persuaded there are huge savings to be had without cuts in services," he said.

Lord Tebbit added that it was "a pity that the culture of spin, smear, distortion and lies should inhibit open public discussion over the costs of providing services such as health and education, which all parties agree should be maintained."

Labour also was implicated in Mr Flight’s downfall yesterday when Liam Fox, the Tory party co-chairman, accused the party of infiltrating its meetings. Labour failed to deny the allegations.

It comes after a string of leaks about shadow ministers’ remarks obtained at private meetings.

The Scotsman understands the Tories have had their London campaign headquarters checked for bugs by a private security firm. A source said: "We now realise we can put nothing past Labour."

The Tories faced a further blow yesterday when a poll, taken even before the scandal broke, showed Labour was 12 points ahead.

More than half of voters said they expected the Tories to make substantial cuts in public services if elected, despite the party’s emphatic denials.

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