Is Witham ready for a gay kisser?

WATCH OUT for the whirlwind about to sweep through East Anglia. The cream of Tory Party talent is descending on the region as constituency parties prepare to choose General Election candidates.

By Graham Dines

WATCH OUT for the whirlwind about to sweep through East Anglia. The cream of Tory Party talent is descending on the region as constituency parties prepare to choose General Election candidates.

Mid Norfolk has no less than 18 of the so-called 'A' list candidates - those who fit David Cameron's image of modern Conservatism - on the short list of 20, which local party members will whittle down to six this weekend.

Among these gold stars are the best selling author Louise Bashshawe, Westminster councillor Kit Malthouse, and former Coronation Street actor turned gay icon Adam Rickett. Many of them have been charging around the country, trying to entice traditional Tories to select them.


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Those unsuccessful applicants in Mid Norfolk are almost certain to lay claim on Witham, the new constituency carved out of the existing Braintree, Colchester, Maldon, and North Essex seats. It stretches either side of the A12 from Marks Tey down to Hatfield Peverel and includes Great Totham, Tollesbury, Tolleshunt D'Arcy, Wickham Bishops, Woodham, Black Notley, Terling, Bradwell, Silver End, Rivenhall, Coggeshall, North Feering, Kelvedon, Witham, Birch, Winstree, Copford, West Stanway, Marks Tey, Stanway, and Tiptree.

The new seat is likely to be in the top 10 of safest Conservative seats in the country - but don't be surprised if Tories in this part of Essex snub their noses at Conservative Central Office and choose someone with local connections.

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As one senior Conservative in the new seat said: “I don't think someone who has spent his or her entire life in the Highlands of Scotland will be provided by us with a safe passage into Parliament.”

And the Essex Tory added: “We want, and will encourage, local candidates to apply. We will want to compare them with those whom Central Office has elevated to the 'A' list

One person on the 'A' list is former Essex North and Suffolk South Euro MP Anne McIntosh, whose Vale of York constituency disappears at the election through boundary changes. She still has a property in Essex.

Another on the Central Office candidates' list is Tim Collins, the former Tory education spokesman who lost his Westmoreland seat to the Liberal Democrats at the last election. He was educated at Chigwell and his mother Diana was chairman of Epping Forest Conservatives.

With Central Office almost in desperation to get Adam Rickett adopted somewhere, there may be pressure on the Witham Tories to choose him.

But could privately educated Rickett really swap the cobbles of Coronation Street for the horticultural and agricultural pastures of the new Witham seat? Internet site www.bent.com describes him as a gay icon, a heart breaker and a hunk.

He played the character Nicky Tilsley, whose marriage to Leanne Battersby floundered when they emigrated to Canada. Tilsley returned and he shared the soap opera's first gay kiss, before finally departing the Street for a career in pop music and appearing on the West End stage in Rent, the musical about Aids. On at least two occasions, he has been the Tory panellist on the BBC's Question Time.

Would-be Witham MPs still have time to apply. Nominations close in the next few weeks and the shadow executive of the constituency will draw up a short list to be interviewed by the membership.

At this week's Essex County Council reception at the Tory conference Bournemouth, a considerable number of `A' listers came up to me to ask about the nature of the seat and the local issues likely to be raised at interviews.

It's was flattering to be so much in demand. The scramble for Witham is well and truly under way.

LABOUR SCRAPS CONFERENCE

LABOUR has neatly finessed the problem of Tony Blair addressing its annual spring conference - by cancelling the Glasgow gathering in favour of a series of smaller “seminars and consultations” to involve more people in policy-making.

The Prime Minister, having said his farewell to the Labour faithful in Manchester last week, would have been under pressure to give a repeat performance in Glasgow.

The decision, taken by the party's national executive, indicates that Mr Blair will not resign as Labour leader until after the English council, Scottish parliamentary, and Welsh assembly elections in May.

The NEC said it had decided to take politics out to the country” and denied the debt-ridden party could not afford to stage the spring conference.

“The change of format will involve the largest-ever number of people in our discussions on future policy priorities,” said Peter Watt, Labour's general secretary, who added he was “excited” about the plans.

“The Labour Party has always led the way in reforming its structures and outreach to involve the largest possible number of people in policy-making.

“This new approach will allow us to involve the greatest-ever number of party members and supporters in the preparation of what will become our next manifesto,” said Mr Watt.

BEAZLEY'S HISTORY LESSON

EAST of England Conservative Euro MP Christopher Beazley has won plaudits from the EU establishment for penning an education curriculum, which has been designed to emphasise a better knowledge of European languages and history.

Mr Beazley's report “The European Dimension of School Teaching” was approved by the European Parliament after Mr Beazley said: “It is vital for the future of our country that our young people speak more languages than English and learn there's more to history than Hitler.

“Head teacher must have the choice to widen their pupils' understanding of language and history.”

Fellow East region MEP Tom Wise of the UK Independence Party called it “propaganda” designed to airbrush from out the proud individual histories of countries in the EU.

But Mr Beazley hit back, saying it was “foolish to allege all this is Euro-propaganda. It is a problem the UK must address to prosper.”

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