A HAMPSHIRE MP is in the running for a top Westminster job, in a highly unusual “by-election” taking place this week.

Up for grabs is the chairmanship of the defence select committee, a crucial post responsible for scrutinising the multi-billion-pound spending of the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Now Julian Lewis, the Conservative MP for New Forest East, is winning strong cross-party support in a contest to be settled in a vote on Wednesday.

But Dr Lewis downplayed suggestions that he was the favourite to grab the job, saying: “I have a one-in-eight chance of being successful.”

Up to eight Conservatives could throw their hats into the ring, after fellow Tory James Arbuthnot, who is leaving parliament next year, stood down.

To be able to stand, candidates – who must be Conservative – must win the backing of at least five MPs from other parties.

Dr Lewis is in a strong position after getting the nod from senior Labour MPs including former ministers Peter Hain and Hazel Blears.

Fellow Hampshire Conservatives Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) and Mark Hoban (Fareham) have also nominated the New Forest East MP.

He said he believed his supporters saw him as a “conviction politician”, even if they didn’t necessarily share his political beliefs.

Dr Lewis said: “It’s an important job because many decisions about defence are controversial and, often, the Government doesn’t choose the most sensible option.”

Dr Lewis was a shadow defence minister for seven years in the last decade and is currently a member of parliament’s intelligence and security committee.

He has used that background to urge David Cameron to press ahead with |renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent and opposed arming the rebels in the Syrian civil war.

No.10 is widely believed to oppose Dr Lewis, preferring a safe pair of hands to an outspoken MP who has clashed with the prime minister.