Vegetables are not rooted in Suffolk

First it was the Norfolk Taliban; now we have the Suffolk Swedes. Political editor GRAHAM DINES says the battle for the heart and soul of the Conservative Party is becoming personal and dirty.

Graham Dines

First it was the Norfolk Taliban; now we have the Suffolk Swedes. Political editor GRAHAM DINES says the battle for the heart and soul of the Conservative Party is becoming personal and dirty.

THERE was undisguised fury by Conservatives at being labelled the Suffolk Swedes by a Sunday newspaper.

After party members in Norfolk suffered the indignity of being tarnished the Turnip Taliban, the Suffolk Swedes jibe added insult to injury.

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The implication is that East Anglia Tory members are a bunch of straw sucking, two headed yokels who don't venture to the bright lights of London and therefore have no idea whatsoever what life is like in 21st century multi-cultural cosmopolitan Britain.

They're standing in the way of the great David Cameron modernising effort to make the Conservatives liked and electable next year.

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It's a cruel tag on people without whom the Tory Party would have been in an even bigger mess after 1997 than they ended up in. The two counties elected eight Tory MPs in 1997, 2001, and 2005, and earlier this year, the party gained Norwich North from Labour in the by-election.

The raison d'etre for the name calling came after Conservatives in Norfolk South-West initially pleased Central Office by choosing Liz Truss, a so-called “Cameron Cutie” and one of the bright stars in the Conservative firmament, but within hours, made moves to deselect her.

They did so on the basis that she had not told the selection committee that she had had an 18-month affair with Mark Field, the MP for the Cities of London & Westminster, which had ended in 2006.

“She should have told us,” shouted the backwoodsmen. “It was on Google,” came the modernisers' riposte - another backhanded insult, assuming that Tories in the shires couldn't use the internet.

After weeks of name calling, the executive met again and confirmed that Ms Truss would be the candidate.

The modernisers turned the attention to the Conservatives in Suffolk Central and Ipswich North, who were looking for a successor to long-standing MP Sir Michael Lord.

The selection sub-committee travelled to Central Office and after sifting through 175 applications, drew up a short-list of six - gender balanced at three men and three women and with no local names on it.

Members of the party in Suffolk, including the entire Tory group on Mid Suffolk district council, muttered darkly of Cameron trying to impose on them a short-list drawn up to make one of the six, Katy Bourne - yet another Cameron Cutie - the odds-on favourite.

Suffolk Central & Ipswich North found themselves in the cross-fire between the modernisers who thoroughly approved of the final six, and local activists who were unhappy at what they believed was undue influence from the centre.

The choice of a successor to Sir Michael - it's a safe seat and whoever gets the nod will be elected next year - will be made on Friday.

And now the caravan containing the A-listers will be heading to Newmarket. Suffolk West MP Richard Spring has surprised everyone by saying he'll not seek re-election, thus creating a vacancy in another safe seat.

He's stood down now so that Suffolk West Tories will have control over the selection process. If he had gone in January, by-election rules would have applied and Conservative Central Office would have imposed a shortlist on the association - which could have been all-women.

There are no obvious local Tories who would make the frame, although the constituency is home to some of the wealthiest families in the UK who may have sons and daughters who could fancy becoming an MP.

Colin Noble, the chairman of Suffolk West Tories, is unabashed at the insults that have been flying down the A14 in Suffolk Central and Ipswich North. “I have a desire to get the best person for the job, whether he or she is local or not.”

The attack on Suffolk Swedes in the Mail on Sunday was dubbed “offensive” by Stephen Britt, the chairman of Suffolk Central and Ipswich North.

At the heart of the row between traditionalist and modernisers is the right of local parties to choose a candidate who pleases them, and that the process takes place without pressure from Central Office.

David Cameron wants as many people as possible in the next parliament who reflect Britain “as it is today” and not get stuck with a gang of stereotypical moralistic White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

Given that Cameron is a wealthy, happily married family man, there is resentment that people who are not seen by many activists as normal are being foisted on them.

I suspect Suffolk West will be able to get on with the job of choosing Richard Spring's successor without too many hiccups.

As for Suffolk Central and Ipswich North, they'll choose a candidate this Friday who may not be local but who will not be saddled with prejudices against any part of the constituency, which is the danger of going for someone local.

All shortlisted candidates are encouraged by Central Office to talk to the media to find out issues of which they should be aware and which avoids them falling into an elephant trap at the final selection meeting.

I've already had a chat for an hour or so in an Ipswich coffee bar with one of the candidates, and I'm meeting another tomorrow, arranged after a lengthy chat on the phone.

I'm not saying who they are, but to my unprejudiced mind, either would make an ideal Suffolk MP.

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