Eastleigh by-election: Cameron defends Maria Hutchings

Ms Hutchings said she had needed to be at the factory visit early to prepare

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The prime minister became involved in a row over his party's by-election candidate as he visited Eastleigh to give Maria Hutchings' campaign a boost.

David Cameron was visiting cable factory Prysmian in the Hampshire town, with Mrs Hutchings.

The Tory candidate had been criticised by some political rivals for being unavailable to take part in a BBC 5 Live election debate earlier.

Ms Hutchings said she had needed to be at the factory visit early to prepare.

Mr Cameron defended her decision and criticised the BBC for covering the row, which he said was more about form than the substance of the campaign.

Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron said earlier: "The Tory candidate is clearly running scared.

"She's refusing to show up to a hustings with the people she says she wants to represent, proving her claims to stay in touch are empty and worthless.

"It is clear that the Tory candidate is so at odds with her own party leader, they are resorting to a desperate game of hide and seek."

'Behaved badly'

Mr Cameron said: "Maria has done hustings all over the constituency.

"I think the BBC has behaved badly and stupidly about this from everything I've heard about what's happened.

"Never mind arguing about the form, let's look at the substance. The substance of the issue is who is the best candidate for Eastleigh.

"Maria is hard-working, lives locally, a mother-of-four, business experience, entrepreneurial experience, backing the right plan for Britain - that's what matters."

Addressing to BBC directly, he said: "You know you're not the most important thing in this by-election - the candidates are."

Labour candidate John O'Farrell said: "It is incredibly arrogant of David Cameron to say that it's the candidates who are the most important thing in the by-election.

"The most important thing in this by-election are the voters."

Mrs Hutchings' place at the hustings was filled by local Tory MP George Hollingbery.

The visit comes a week from polling day in the by-election triggered by Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne's resignation following his guilty plea to perverting the course of justice.

Huhne resigned after he admitted evading penalty points for speeding.

The final list of candidates in alphabetical order is:

  • COLIN BEX - Wessex regionalists
  • DAVID BISHOP - Elvis Loves Pets Party
  • JIM DUGGAN - Peace Party
  • RAY HALL - Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party
  • HOWLING LAUD HOPE - Monster Raving Loony William Hill Party
  • MARIA HUTCHINGS - Conservative
  • DIANE JAMES - UK Independence Party
  • DR IAIN MACLENNAN - National Health Action Party
  • KEVIN MILBURN - Christian Party "Proclaiming Christ's Lordship"
  • JOHN O'FARRELL - Labour
  • DARREN PROCTER - Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
  • DANNY STUPPLE - Independent
  • MIKE THORNTON - Liberal Democrats
  • MICHAEL WALTERS - The English Democrats - "Putting England First!"

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