‘A pact with the devil’: Eastleigh by-election fight gets ugly

The promise of a clean fight in Eastleigh was left in tatters last night as the Conservatives accused the Liberal Democrats of a "misleading" campaign.

The attack from Tory chairman Grant Shapps comes after the revelation that party candidate Maria Hutchings called the coalition agreement "a pact with the devil".

When David Cameron and Nick Clegg first started negotiations following the 2010 general election, Hutchings wrote on her blog that the prime minister's move was a "sell out".

She added: "The Lib Dems have a reduction in seats and yet they might help govern Britain — INSANE."

The comments confirm Hutchings could well become a problem for Cameron even if she wins the by-election, with a likely place among the backbench Tory awkward squad lined up for her.

That eventuality appears less likely by the day, however, as the Tory high command becomes increasingly downcast about their ability to win the seat amid fears the Lib Dems have consolidated their lead.

Shapps was focusing Tory fire on Lib Dem housing policy yesterday, ahead of a council vote on whether to build 1,400 new homes on a golf course – a plan opposed by the Conservatives.

"Nick Clegg has pushed the Lib Dem campaign into turmoil," Shapps said.

"He says he makes 'no apology' for planning to concrete over Eastleigh's countryside. His candidate says 'we have to use green spaces'. And yet the Liberal Democrat campaign promises to 'protect our precious green spaces and countryside'.

"If the Lib Dems have any respect for Eastleigh voters, then Nick Clegg must explain his party's misleading campaign."

A Lib Dem spokesperson said: "The Conservatives are refusing to suggest any other possible land for housing. If they don't go for the golf course, it would mean a greenfield site would have to be used."

Meanwhile, Hutchings was trying to move on from comments in which she suggested her son was too gifted to be sent to state school.

"When I was talking to the original journalist I was referring to when he was five years old," she said.

"I couldn't find the right provision for where I was living at that time, not Eastleigh."

Labour candidate John O'Farrell had his own storm-in-a-teacup, as he explained a passage in his Things Can Only Get Better Book in which he said he wished Margaret Thatcher had been killed by an IRA bomb at the Tory party conference in 1984.

"I could write a book where I said I was a good person, I was a good person, I was a good person," he told the Southern Daily Echo.

"I had a fleeting bad thought. I was an angry young man in the middle of the miners' strike. A terrible thought came into my head and I immediately castigated myself for it. I was honest because I said how I felt for a split second at the time."

Norman Tebbit, whose wife was a victim of the bombing, wrote in the Telegraph: "I do not know to what extent his disappointment that Sinn/FeinIRA failed to kill the prime minister was eased by the deaths of five other people or the injuries incurred by John Wakeham and my wife.

"The question now is not just whether any rational or decent Labour voter in Eastleigh will vote for this creature O'Farrell."

The by-election will take place on February 28th.