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Esther Rantzen to stand for parliament

28th July 2009

Eloquent and vociferous advocate of consumer rights, Esther Rantzen outlined her manifesto for the voters of Luton South.

The former That's Life presenter and prospective MP wanted to challenge the wounding criticism of the Labour grandee Roy Hattersley, who said she would most likely have no policies at all.

"My passion is to improve the treatment of vulnerable children," said Rantzen.

"Respect for old people in the media, and in reality, and hospitals ... now, if you don't mind, I'd like to go in the garden."

Tougher questions will likely hound her before the next general election, but yesterday was undoubtedly hers as she toured Luton, gave endless interviews and radiated excitement about the "adventure" that could take her to parliament, following in the footsteps of such famous independent candidates as Martin Bell.

Like Bell, she is used to being in front of camera, and media scrums are unlikely to faze her. The constituency also needs a new MP because the incumbent, Margaret Moran, is standing down after she was caught up in the MPs expenses furore.

Moran was revealed to have claimed £22,500 for dry rot at a home 100 miles away from the constituency. She said she would step aside shortly before a party inquiry ruled she should not run again.

Rantzen will most likely run on an anti-sleaze ticket, and warmed to this theme on a walkabout wearing a polka dot dress and straw boater – a nod to the area's traditional hatmaking industry.

She said that the "lack of trust in our political system remained", before taking a well-aimed swipe at Moran.

"I have a home near Southampton and it has got the most terrible dry rot but I got rid of it and I promise you and other taxpayers I will not charge you a penny if it comes back." She suggested "Let's love Luton" as a local campaign slogan, with "A fresh deal for Britain" as a possible national alternative.

Rantzen first mooted the idea of standing in Luton South more than three months ago but held off announcing it until yesterday, encouraged, she said, by the enthusiasm of voters.

"I'm doing it because it's important and it may just be that the British public still have appetite for change and a cold breath of fresh air," she told the Guardian. "For me it's a bit like going to the moon, a small step for a woman, a big step for independents."

On the streets of the town yesterday, shoppers appeared enthusiastic about the idea of having such a high-profile MP.

John Smith, 60, said:"She's all right. Better than Margaret Moran. I went to her office once to help me out with a problem, but all she had to say was she was busy and told me to make an appointment."

One person who appeared less than thrilled about her announcement was the Conservative candidate for Luton South, Nigel Huddleston. "If you're going to stand as an anti-sleaze candidate surely it would make most sense to stand against an actual wrongdoer," he said.

The jibes are unlikely to have much of an effect on Rantzen, who is battle-hardened from years of presenting and writing the programme That's Life. The show, which ran from 1974 to 1994, highlighted serious issues alongside lighter asides such as talking dogs and amusingly shaped vegetables. It also included a "jobsworth" award for overzealous officials.

Rantzen also founded Childline, a charity to help young people, in 1986.

She has in recent years appeared on reality shows, having entered both Celebrity Come Dancing and I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here. Despite all this, she insisted that she was an underdog.

"I had to stamp on my common sense. All political experts told me I didn't have a chance, Britain doesn't like independent candidates and would never vote for me.

"All my visits to Luton South have been immensely pleasurable so you can see how it kicked my common sense into touch."

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