Tories urged to 'fight' for seat

DAVID Cameron is facing mounting pressure to launch a well resourced by-election campaign in Barnsley and to not go easy on the Liberal Democrats.

The prospect of a by-election in the Barnsley Central constituency, left vacant after disgraced MP Eric Illsley's decision to quit, threatens to fuel tensions between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

There have been claims that senior Tories held back from launching a fully fledged campaign during this week's Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election and effectively gave their Lib Dem partners a clear run at the seat.

The prospect of an informal electoral pact angered grassroot Tory activists who are now urging the Prime Minister to target Barnsley Central and make the most of Labour's embarrassment at Illsley's conviction for dishonestly claiming more then 14,000 in expenses.

Labour won the seat easily at last year's General Election with a huge majority of more than 11,000.

The Liberal Democrat candidate Chris Wiggin finished second - just six votes ahead of the Tory candidate Piers Tempest.

Tory activists have demanded that the party's high command do not give the Lib Dems a free run at the seat.

One Tory supporter wrote on the Conservativehome website: "Time to start the selection process for Barnsley Central. Why repeat the mistake of Oldham?"

Another wrote: "I hope that after Thursday Barnsley Conservatives will start campaigning straight away, even before a candidate is selected."

Illsley pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court to three false accounting charges over claims for council tax, maintenance, repairs and utility bills for his second home. A day later - following intense pressure - he announced he would quit before he is sentenced.

Labour chiefs are believed to want a local candidate to stand in the by-election, although popular council leader Steve Houghton is thought unlikely to throw his hat in the ring.

Bookmakers William Hill yesterday made Labour the overwhelming favourites to win back the seat with odds of 1/100.

Spokesman Graham Sharpe said: "This is a safe Labour seat and the fuss over Illsley is unlikely to impact on Labour's new candidate.

"We're so convinced that Labour will win that our odds require punters to stake 100 to win just 1. Favourites don't come much hotter than that."

The Conservatives are 25/1 second favourites with the Lib Dems at 50/1.

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