A SEAT in one of the strongest Tory constituencies in the country is up for grabs with the exit of its stalwart MP.
That’s the view of political parties after Fareham MP Mark Hoban announced he will be quitting the position at the general election in May after 14 years to move on to ‘new challenges’.
Conservative applications to replace Mr Hoban will begin on Monday.
But the contenders will not include likely candidates Sean Woodward, leader of Fareham Borough Council and Donna Jones, leader of the Portsmouth authority, after both ruled themselves out of the running.
Mr Hoban yesterday announced that he would be quitting the seat which he first won in 2001 with a 7,009 majority and which he retained in 2010 with a 17,092 majority.
As the respected politician steps aside, other parties are looking to the constituency with renewed hope.
Jim Forrest, chair of Fareham Liberal Democrats, the main opposition, said: ‘We are in the final selection process and we expect to be able to be able to give our members a strong choice of candidates with local links next week.
‘Mark Hoban’s departure makes it an interesting contest. To have a new face makes it a much more open contest.’
Mr Hoban was stripped of his role of employment minister last year but said this was not part of his decision to leave.
He told The News: ‘I am ready to do something else. I am 50 and I have got a lot of energy left in me that I can put into something else.’
‘It has been a tough decision.
‘I know myself well enough to know when I have run my course and it is better to leave with a high opinion.
‘I have not been forced out but it is just that I am ready for the next challenge.’
Mr Hoban declined to say what this challenge consisted of but said he intended to stay in the Fareham area.
The Lib Dems are yet to complete their selection process, with their deadline for entrants closing yesterday at 5pm.
Other parties – the Greens, Labour and Ukip – have already announced their prospective candidates.
The Greens are hoping for success with a young candidate, 20-year-old Miles Grindey, from Warsash.
Mr Grindey said: ‘Mark Hoban’s departure will open up the public interest in the election and get them to look at the candidates. It will really shake things up.’
Labour has selected Stuart Rose, a former borough councillor from Fareham, and Ukip have put forward Don Jerrard, a former business lawyer from Southampton.
Meanwhile the Tories are busy drawing up a pool of suitable candidates.
Chairman of Fareham Conservative Association Thomas Fyfe said applications will open on Monday.
A Tory candidate will be decided by the end of February.