Iain Dale claims an EXCLUSIVE on his blog in the article which follows, entitled:
Clegg Approached Martin Bell & EDP Editor to Stand in Norwich North
April Pond - The Third Choice LibDem Candidate
My story about the selection of the LibDem candidate for Norwich North certainly got several LibDem bloggers hot and bothered. All I can say is, brace yourselves for round two.
It seems that April Pond was very much their third choice candidate, for I can reveal that Nick Clegg personally approached Martin Bell to ask him to stand in the seat, and when he refused the blandishments of the LibDem leader, Clegg turned his attentions to Peter Franzen, the veteran editor of the Eastern Daily Press. Franzen also said no, leaving the local party to choose an already selected candidate for the neighbouring seat of Broadland.
It was the Eastern Daily Press which lured Martin Bell out of political retirement to stand in the European elections in 2004, after a series of sleaze rows hit local MEPs. I'm told this time around Bell, although severely tempted, decided he had bigger dragons to slay than Ian Gibson who had already fallen on his sword.
I emailed Peter Franzen about the approach from Clegg earlier this evening and while he wouldn't actually confirm Clegg had asked him to stand, he gave a pretty clear indication.
"It is true that Nick Clegg came to the EDP last week to do a "web chat" and that he and I discussed Norwich North and my imminent retirement as editor of the Eastern Daily Press, but I think it would be unfair to the now-adopted prospective parliamentary candidate for the Lib Dems (April Pond) to say any more than that."
So that's a yes, then. Tonight, I put this to Nick Clegg's official spokesman, who gave me this comment...
"The only candidates considered were those that went before the formal selection process. April won through and was selected on Sunday. She is an excellent local candidate."
So, no outright denial. Having spoken to other sources, both in Norwich and London, I am 100% confident that Clegg did indeed ask Franzen to stand.
Norfolk Blogger, who himself had been interested in standing, will have further food for thought. He's already echoed some of my own thoughts about the advisability of a candidate in a nearby seat being selected.
In my previous blogpost I wrote that it would be ludicrous for April Pond to return to Broadland after losing the by election, only to be told by various LibDem supporters that there would be nothing wrong with that at all. I am now told that if she loses, she will be sticking with Norwich North and abandoning Broadland for good. She said so at her selection meeting, according to a local source. This may come as a relief to several senior LibDem activists who have abandoned her campaign after growing tired of her refusal to take advice on how to run it. If you were being suspicious, you might possibly think that the LibDems were being very machiavellian and using this by election to shift a failing candidate out of one of their main target seats. While you might think that, I couldn't possibly comment.
There are also further signs that Labour is intending to delay the by election until October, leaving the constituency without an MP for four months. The reason is that they fear that if Labour loses the seat there would be further pressure on Gordon Brown in advance of a Labour conference. Their reticence in selecting a candidate may also be a further sign that they are inclined to avoid a quick poll.