Tories in Essex turmoil

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorTHE Conservative Party's European campaign, already thrown into disarray by an upsurge in support for the UK Independence Party, has been further battered in Essex after failing to get its election material to the Royal Mail on time for delivery.

By Graham Dines

Political Editor

THE Conservative Party's European campaign has been further battered after failing to get its election material to the Royal Mail on time for delivery.

Tens of thousands of Tory leaflets arrived at the central Chelmsford depot after the cut-off time for guaranteed delivery before the eve of the election.

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The problem comes after the Conservative Party's European campaign was already thrown into disarray by an upsurge in support for the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

With Essex key to the Tories' chances of seeing off the UKIP challenge, the late distribution to the main regional sorting office in Chelmsford means that households throughout the Colchester and Tendring districts still have not received any information on Conservative polices.

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Leaflets from the eight other parties have already been delivered by Royal Mail, which is now struggling to ensure the Conservative information reaches voters in time.

A spokesman for Royal Mail said: "We can confirm that the majority of the Conservative leaflets in Essex were not received by the postal delivery deadline.

"Royal Mail is pulling out all the stops to try to effect delivery before polling day."

John Flack, the East of England area chairman for the Conservative Party, admitted "some problems" had been encountered with the Royal Mail free delivery.

"I hear what Royal Mail says and I have ordered an investigation at our end to see what has gone wrong," he added.

"It appears that with 36 hours to go, the freepost delivery had not issued our leaflets in north Essex. We have been trying to hand deliver as many as possible."

In the rest of the East of England European region - Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, and Bedfordshire - most households have received two different leaflets via Royal Mail on behalf of Conservative candidates.

Known Tory supporters have also received a letter, hand-delivered by Conservative activists, from party leader Michael Howard.

The Conservative campaign got off on the wrong foot when the party deselected Euro MP Bashir Khanbhai just 26 hours before nominations closed over expenses irregularities, despite receiving the full back of Mr Howard.

Mr Khanbhai was not replaced on the party's list, meaning the Tories are fielding just six candidates.

n Chelmsford Liberal Democrat borough John Trustrum has defected to UKIP. Mr Trustrum, who represents St Andrew's ward, said: "People's eyes light up when you talk about Europe and all they are telling me is that they want out of the EU.

"The Liberal Democrats have their policy wrong on this and I can't slog round doorsteps flogging a policy I don't believe in and which is clearly not what the

voters want to hear."

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