Leader raps Lib Dems over by-election push

SIR Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, lambasted his own party yesterday for starting to campaign for a by-election just days after the death of the Tory MP Eric Forth.

Sir Menzies rebuked party workers for urging supporters to start campaigning in the London constituency of Bromley and Chislehurst before the election has even been called.

Mr Forth, an outspoken Glasgow-born MP, who was known for his lack of deference to authority, love of colourful ties and mastery of parliamentary procedures, died on Thursday and will be buried today.

Sir Menzies paid tribute to him, telling journalists: "Eric Forth was a friend of mine. He was born within a mile of where I was born. I deprecate any effort to begin electioneering under any circumstances in any by-election until the writ has been moved by the party with responsibility for doing so.

"If that were done, I disapprove, and I will make sure my disapproval is known."

The by-election is expected to take place on 29 June.

Sir Menzies's tribute to Mr Forth came despite a recent joke at his expense from the Tory MP. When the Lib Dem leader, now 65, asked Tony Blair about pensions, Mr Forth brought the House down when he shouted: "Declare your interest."

Meanwhile, Sir Menzies failed publicly to back the sex-scandal MP Mark Oaten to stand at the next election, saying it was up to his constituency association.

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