Khanbhai cleared by top Tories

A PANEL of senior Conservative MPs and party volunteers has cleared an East of England Euro MP of any impropriety over his constituency address in Norfolk.

By Graham Dines

A PANEL of senior Conservative MPs and party volunteers has cleared an East of England Euro MP of any impropriety over his constituency address in Norfolk.

Bashir Khanbhai, an MEP since 1999 and number three on the Tories' list for the European elections in June, has used a poste restante address at a boatyard in Wroxham for constituency correspondence.

Mr Khanbhai, 58, who lives at Sevenoaks in Kent, had strenuously denied he was trying to mislead constituents into believing his home was in Norfolk.

The East of England European constituency, represented by eight MEPs elected on a regional list, covers Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. The four Tories have split the geographically with Mr Khanbhai assigned to Suffolk and Norfolk.

Two Tory MEPs, Geoffrey Van Orden and Robert Sturdy, live in Suffolk but use Conservative constituency offices in Chelmsford and Hardwick near Cambridge as their correspondence addresses because they are responsible for Essex and Cambridgeshire respectively.

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But instead of choosing one of the 15 Tory party offices in Suffolk and Norfolk as his constituency base, Mr Khanbhai used the Wroxham boatyard as the address to which constituents should write.

With just three weeks to go before nominations close for the European elections, Conservative Central Office convened a panel with the power to deselect Mr Khanbhai if it considered he had broken any rules.

After hearing from Mr Khanbhai and considering representations from Tory activists across East Anglia as well as a number of Westminster MPs, the panel - chaired by Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff - decided to do nothing.

Mr Khanbhai's Brussels office referred all calls to Central Office, which told the EADT: "There was an internal investigation. No action is being taken."

Seventeen months ago, Mr Van Orden, Mr Sturdy, Mr Khanbhai and the Tories' fourth East region Euro MP Christopher Beazley, who is responsible for Hertfordshire, were engaged in an internal reselection battle to determine the order they should appear on the Conservative list.

After voting by activists at a series of hustings, Mr Van Orden leapfrogged the others to go from fourth place to first, Mr Sturdy was demoted to second spot, Mr Khanbhai remained third, and Mr Beazley slid to fourth.

Any swing away from the Conservatives in June would threaten Mr Beazley's re-election prospects because the number of Euro MPs in this region is being reduced to seven following enlargement of the European Union.

Mr Van Orden is trying to become a Westminster MP and has been shortlisted for the safe Tory seat of Rochford and Southend East, which is being vacated by arch Eurosceptic Sir Teddy Taylor.

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