Veteran Tory MP Sir Patrick Cormack was today hopeful he will stand again at the next election despite an attempt by his constituency party executive to oust him as their candidate.
At a meeting on February 12 the executive committee of South Staffordshire Conservative Association voted against allowing Sir Patrick to stand again as a Tory candidate at the next election.
But the ballot, in which he was defeated by a single vote, has since been branded "illegal" by a senior figure in the local party. It was discovered afterwards that more votes were cast than those present and that a number of people entitled to be at the meeting were not notified it was taking place.
Constituency Association chairman David Billson has explained the discrepancies as "a minor clerical error", a description which has angered Sir Patrick’s supporters.
National party chairman, Francis Maude, has indicated that the vote at the meeting should be invalidated.
Insiders say there is a faction within the local party who would like to see Sir Patrick, 67, replaced by a younger candidate in this seemingly safe Conservative seat.
Sir Patrick, who has been MP for this area since 1970, has warned that he could stand as an Independent in the unlikely event that his candidature is not restored. He has a huge personal following in the constituency.
Numbering among his supporters are some people who vote for him despite the fact that they are members of the Labour Party.
Sir Patrick said: "The May elections are getting ever closer and so I very much hope this matter may be resolved amicably in the near future."
Mrs Wilhelm Rose, president of the local association, said: "This is a terrible state of affairs. It (the meeting) was illegal and, indeed, the voting process.
"There were people who should have been there who had not even been notified that it was taking place.
"We must do something about it, otherwise the association could be in great trouble."
Mrs Rose advocates an emergency executive meeting "to go through the process again".
She said that Sir Patrick had received the "most amazing" support since the affair became public, including not only messages of support from senior figures in the Conservative Party, but also from members of other parties.
At the last General Election Sir Patrick secured the largest swing (9.4 per cent) from Labour to Tory of any seat in the country.
It is understood that some of those who oppose Sir Patrick’s continued candidature are ex-police officers.
Mr Cormack received a rousing cheer from both sides of the House of Commons last week when he referred to his uncertain future in a question to the Prime Minister.
He pointed out that Mr Blair had decided to resign soon while he hoped to carry on in his present role. Sir Patrick said: "As one who has been put, I hope, temporarily and certainly unwillingly into the departure lounge, can I ask somebody who already has his boarding ticket what he expects and hopes to be remembered by before he goes off on the lecture circuit."
Although Sir Patrick received support from Conservative MPs there were also cheers from Labour MPs, who claim that his deselection proved that the Tories lack respect for their elders.