Feb 21 2013
David Cameron rolled into the Eastleigh by-election and straight into a political row over why his candidate did not take part in a live hustings.
Mr Cameron, fresh off the plane from a trade visit to India, was with Tory candidate Maria Hutchings when they visited Prysmian Cables & Systems in the Hampshire constituency and he opened a new £2 million high voltage lab.
But Mrs Hutchings's appearance at his side meant she missed a BBC Radio 5 Live hustings with the other major candidates.
Local MP George Hollingbery took her place amid Liberal Democrat accusations that Tory Party bosses are hiding her away because of off-message outbursts on abortion, gay marriage and Europe.
Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron said: "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.
"You have to ask why Cameron's Conservative machine keeps trying to hide her away. This is a candidate who says on her leaflets that she puts local people before political ambition, yet the moment she gets to share the spotlight with her party leader all that is forgotten."
Conservative Party sources said the clash was unavoidable and it would have looked strange if the Prime Minister had turned up at the factory without his candidate.
But privately there are concerns that Mrs Hutchings is "a loose cannon".
Publicly, Mr Cameron was right behind his candidate, telling workers at the factory during a Cameron Direct question-and-answer session: "She will be an absolutely first class MP for Eastleigh. She is a local mother of four, she speaks plainly and tells it how it is and God knows we need that in Westminster."
A week from polling day in the by-election triggered by disgraced Chris Huhne's resignation, the Prime Minister took questions from an audience of workers on topics such as Europe, VAT, immigration and benefits.