Norfolk Tories may defy Cameron cutie
THE threat of deselection to Tory candidate Elizabeth Truss in South-West Norfolk, and of a big rebuff to David Cameron, has been revived.Amid signs of a backlash after the U-turn performed by local Conservative chairman David Hills, Sir Jeremy Bagge, the former high sheriff of Norfolk, is to propose that Ms Truss be dropped at a showdown meeting of members on Monday.
THE threat of deselection to Tory candidate Elizabeth Truss in South-West Norfolk, and of a big rebuff to David Cameron, has been revived.
Amid signs of a backlash after the U-turn performed by local Conservative chairman David Hills, Sir Jeremy Bagge, the former high sheriff of Norfolk, is to propose that Ms Truss be dropped at a showdown meeting of members on Monday.
The importance to Mr Cameron of the outcome of the meeting was underlined when Sir Jeremy revealed that he had a telephone conversation with him in which the Tory leader spelt out why he and his lieutenants were fighting hard to save Ms Truss.
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“He said that if we really stirred things up in South-West Norfolk, it could have a ripple effect across the country,” said Sir Jeremy.
Mr Cameron is acutely aware that several other Tory associations are deeply unhappy about candidate selection rules that seem to favour his “A-list” candidates, and that they are keeping a very close eye on the battle in South West Norfolk. He also knows that disputes could escalate in the new year when he will impose “by-election rules” for the selection of candidates that will involve the imposition of women-only shortlists in some seats that the Tories are expected to win in the general election.
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Undaunted by his discussion with Mr Cameron - which took place on the initiative of the Conservative leader - Sir Jeremy said: “I am sure Ms Truss is a very able woman. But at the Monday meeting I shall be moving, on a point of principle, that we do not endorse her. I do not know how much support I will get, because people can be weak in this sort of situation. But I am not standing for it.”
Sir Jeremy - 7th baronet, friend of the Royal Family and owner of the 1,200-acre Stradsett Estate, near Downham Market - said that he regretted that local Tory association chairman David Hills had been “cornered” into calling for support for Ms Truss this week after making it clear to members of the executive at an earlier stage of the political drama that he felt let down by her and wanted her deselected. His earlier statements - following revelations about Ms Truss's affair with a Tory MP - were sent by email from a cruise ship off Hong Kong.
Sir Jeremy's end of the conversation with Mr Cameron took place, bizarrely, from a vandalised public telephone box in Stradsett village after his mobile phone had broken. It was on the evening of November 5, and they spoke against a background of firework noises that could not compete with the potentially explosive subject of their discussion. By the time it had finished, Sir Jeremy had put �8 in the box.
Mr Cameron sought to speak to him after Sir Jeremy had publicly stated that “I feel totally betrayed by Conservative Central Office” and that “the kindest thing would be to allow her [Ms Truss] to move on”.
In a further indication of how much is at stake for Mr Cameron in SW Norfolk, he was overheard “almost screaming” in a telephone conversation with Baroness Shephard, who as Gillian Shephard was the constituency's MP from 1987 to 2005. She has welcomed Mr Hills' statement of backing for Ms Truss.
Ms Truss's future will be determined by a secret ballot after she has spoken at Monday's meeting. Just under 100 people attended her original selection meeting on October 24.