Truss puts row behind her - and goes for victory

Rebecca GoughSix months ago she was at the centre of a political storm - today she looks like becoming the new MP for South West Norfolk.Rebecca Gough

Six months ago she was at the centre of a political storm - today she looks like becoming the new MP for South West Norfolk.

Elizabeth Truss became headline political news when she was condemned for allegedly failing to tell local Conservative officials responsible for selecting a replacement candidate that she had had an affair with a married fellow Tory, MP Mark Field, in 2005.

It led to an extraordinary public row with local traditionalists, themselves dubbed the 'Norfolk Taliban,' over her behaviour. There was also the small matter that she was an 'outsider,' a woman and a so-called Cameron Cutie.

But Ms Truss hung on, apologised, was selected to fight the seat - and now, pounding the streets of the constituency as time runs out before polling day, is within striking distance of becoming the Tory MP to succeed Christopher Fraser.

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Plenty of media eyes will be on SW Norfolk on Thursday night and early Friday morning to see how she fares.

It is a basically a five-horse race here with Labour's Peter Smith, plus Stephen Gordon for the Liberal Democrats, the Greens Lori Allen and UKIP's Kay Hipsey showing their faces as they canvass and campaign against Ms Truss.

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Issues on the doorstep are familiar, with the issue of MPs' expenses still cropping up every now and then and many people concerned about immigration and pensions.

Taking to the streets of Downham Market with Ms Truss on Friday, I sensed most people appeared friendly and more than half pledged to vote Tory.

But boundaries have changed since the last election - including� the loss of Attleborough and Watton to the new Mid-Norfolk constituency - and the party is taking no chances. Its members know they could well lose a few thousand voters.

This is one of the reasons why Ms Truss and a team of helpers made up of loyal supporters and local councillors were still canvassing hard as they pushed leaflets through doors on the Russell Estate, close to the centre of Downham.

'The public reaction has been very positive,' she said. 'What people really want is someone they feel will stand up for them and for what they want.'

All parties appear united on issues like increasing local services such as post offices and shops in rural villages, faster broadband speeds and better infrastructure.

For Miss Truss things did not begin smoothly. But speaking on the Downham campaign trail along Richmond Road, she said: 'The decision to put me into the seat was a local decision. The vote was by local members and the re-selection was by local members so at no point was I imposed.

'I was selected all the way through the process. I've earned it twice, dare I say it.

'The press will always put a label on things but you have to have a thick skin in politics. Now I want to move on and if I'm elected I want to do a good job of representing the seat.'

All candidates have attempted to make their face as well-known as possible, of course. All apart from the BNP candidate attended a recent hustings at the Paradise Road Methodist Church in Downham where questions included the financial climate and a hung parliament.

LibDem Mr Gordon, hoping for a 'positive result', said: 'So far we've had a good response. We've heard from lots of people but then you never know what will happen on the night.

'I think a lot of people have been affected by the Clegg effect and are rethinking their ideas.

'I would be happy with an increased proportion of the vote and even coming second, say. Don't forget it's a huge constituency with a huge Tory majority.'

With a Conservative majority of 15pc at the last election, the nearest challenger is Labour's Peter Smith who would need a significant swing of 7.5pc to win.

'Canvassing the Thetford estates is interesting,' he said. 'It seems for every four houses they float between one Labour, one Conservative, one Lib Dem and one undecided.

'It's the undecided who are around 25pc to 35pc. Other people have been committing their votes by email to me and asking to help, even people who aren't members.'

2005 results:

Christopher Fraser (Con) 25,881; Charmaine Morgan (Lab) 15,795; April Pond (Lib Dems) 10,207; Delia Hall (UKIP) 2,738; Kim Hayes (Ind) 506. Maj 10,086. Turnout; 62.5pc.

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