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South Suffolk: Why Tim Yeo’s Association moved against him

PUBLISHED: 22:00 03 February 2014

Tim Yeo with party supporters at the 2010 election count - a scene that will not be repeated in 2015.

Tim Yeo with party supporters at the 2010 election count - a scene that will not be repeated in 2015.

There had been mounting concern among officials at South Suffolk Conservative Association about their MP’s low profile in the area since the general election in 2010.

While Mr Yeo’s position as chairman of the House of Common’s Energy and Climate Change committee gave him a major role at Westminster, officials felt he should have spent more time in his constituency.

This concern was compounded by figures showing his earnings from outside interests were higher than his MP’s salary, and there was a feeling that he was not devoting enough of his time to constituency matters.

The concerns came to a head last summer.

An investigation by a Sunday newspaper suggested that Mr Yeo had offered to coach a potential witness before an appearance before his committee.

Meanwhile other constituency Conservative associations in Suffolk were re-adopting their MPs to fight the next general election.

Enquiries to officials in South Suffolk led to the response that they were holding off from making their decision until the result of a report on Mr Yeo’s conduct by the Parliamentary Standards’ Commissioner had been published.

Mr Yeo had referred himself to the commissioner following the Sunday paper’s revelations.

The report took longer than expected to complete, and informal talks with senior Conservatives in the constituency made it clear that Mr Yeo’s future was in the balance.

One senior official told me he had met the MP for a private lunch in August and tried to persuade him to retire “with honour” at the next election.

The report was eventually published in November and cleared Mr Yeo of wrong-doing, but by then many Conservative members in South Suffolk felt it would be better to have a new, younger candidate in place for the next election.

We ran a story about the tensions in the Association, and Mr Yeo confirmed it was his intention to seek the nomination to fight the seat again in 2015.

From the autumn onwards Mr Yeo was seen more in the constituency than he had been since the 2010 election, but officials said privately that many people saw this as “too little, too late.”

His opponents emphasised that their opposition to Mr Yeo was not “political” based on his support for same-sex marriage and green developments.

They said they felt he was not seen to be doing enough for and around the constituency itself.

At the end of November the executive of the South Suffolk Conservative Association met to decide whether to re-adopt Mr Yeo. It comprises about 30 representatives of individual town and village branches across the constituency.

It voted not to re-adopt him. The figures are a closely-guarded secret, but it is believed the result was fairly clear-cut.

Mr Yeo decided to put the matter to a ballot of all 600 members of the association, which was organised by Conservative Central Office in London.

Over the last two months the rules of the party say there should not be open campaigning – however other Suffolk MPs and cabinet members, even the Prime Minister, wrote messages of support to Mr Yeo.

Members of the association also spoke out to explain why they felt it would be better for the area to have another candidate at the next election.

The ballot result should mean the end of the matter – although it remains to be seen if there are any more twists to the story.

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