Former Prime Minster Sir John Major has given Conservative candidate Victoria Atkins a rousing vote of confidence in her battle to become Louth and Horncastle’s next MP.
Sir John said he believes Ms Atkins will see off the UKIP challenge at May’s General Election and succeed Sir Peter Tapsell.
And, speaking to The News while visiting The Petwood in Woodhall Spa on Friday, Sir John said Mrs Atkins has all the attributes to occupy a senior position in the Government for many years to come.
Opinion polls suggest Ms Atkins is locked in a tense battle with UKIP candidate Colin Mair for the seat.
But Sir John, who was the Tory leader and Prime Minister from 1990-97, said he believes UKIP’s support would collapse before the election.
Sir John said: “I’ve known Vicky since she was in nappies so of course, I am very prejudice. Her father (Conservative MEP Sir Robert Atkins) is probably my oldest friend. We’ve known one another since we were 17.
“She was always a clever girl so I’m not surprised she is in line to become an MP. She’s always had very sound opinions ad I think she will be absolutely ideal.
“The world is changing. Politics is changing. We’ve moved on to a new generation. a new generation of exciting politicians who are coming through and Vicky is very much one of them. I’m delighted.”
Sir John went on to outline the qualities which he believes will see Ms Atkins become a successful MP.
He added: “She’s intelligent. She’s able. She’s single minded. She doesn’t stand any nonsense and she will take a big an interest in the constituency about things like flood relief and rural isolation as she will in national issues.
“I think you will find an extremely active and good constituency member of parliament when she is elected.
“And do I think she has the qualities to become a senior minister? Undoubtedly.”
Sir Peter held the seat for the Tories at the election with a big majority, but latest indications suggest UKIP have almost drawn level.
However, Sir John said he was confident Ms Atkins was ready for a battle.
He said: “She is not afraid of a tough fight. A tough fight is something that is attractive. It’s invigorating.
“Has she got the qualities to win? Undoubtedly. Will she win? Undoubtedly. Will she be a good MP for this constituency? Undoubtedly. Will she go on and have a long and successful career? Undoubtedly.”
Sir John was speaking before a dinner organised by the local Conservative party at the Petwood Hotel. He was reluctant to comment on the threat posed by UKIP locally but said he expects UKIP to win “very, very, very few seats” at the election.
Sir John also sprang to the defence of Ms Atkins who has been criticised in some quarters for being ‘wheeled in’ by the Tories.
He added: “We are remembering the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. Churchill represented five constituencies, none of which he had direct local connection with. What you have got to ask is - is this country better or worse off without people like him?
“You need people with ability. I’ve no doubt she will live here. She will get to know this constituency and I think the fact she isn’t local is a problem - if indeed it is a problem - that will go away very quickly.”
Sir John also went on to praise Sir Peter as an ‘iconic’ figure in British politics. He added: “He will be very difficult to replace but I believe we have a first class candidate.”
Ms Atkins welcomed Sir John’s backing and denied it had increased the pressure on her to win.
She said: “It’s fantastic. It’s brilliant that I’m able to draw on his experience. It is very useful - not just in the campaign but also in future.
“I was blushing at some of the things he said but pressure? Do I strike you as someone who is remotely phased by that?
“I’m looking forward to the rest of the campaign. It’s going to be a hard fight but it is going well.
“Each day is full of meeting people, listening to concerns and trying to help where I can. It’s going to fun.”