Witham Tories put four on shortlist

WITHAM Conservatives will choose from three men and an Asian woman when they meet next week to decide who should fight the newly created parliamentary constituency at the next General Election.

By Graham Dines

WITHAM Conservatives will choose from three men and an Asian woman when they meet next week to decide who should fight the newly-created parliamentary constituency at the next General Election.

Experts have calculated the seat, which has been carved out of parts of the existing seats of Maldon and Chelmsford East, Colchester, Braintree and Essex North, would have returned a Tory MP with a majority of 7,500 at last year's election.

After sifting through 90 applications, Witham Tories interviewed 18 aspiring MPs, cut this to seven last week, and over the weekend selected four names to go to a full meeting of local party members on November 20.

The final four are: James Brokenshire, 38, who was last week promoted by Tory leader David Cameron to be a shadow Home Office minister but whose Hornchurch constituency disappears at the next election under boundary changes in east London; Charles Elphicke, 35, research fellow at the right wing think-tank Centre for Policy Studies who was raised in Essex at Langenhoe and whose stepfather is a former leader of Essex County Council; Priti Patel, former media adviser to William Hague; and Geoffrey Van Orden, 61, Euro MP for the East of England since 1999 and a retired brigadier in the British Army.

The selection process became mired in controversy last week when one of the rejected candidates, Ali Miraj, accused the Conservatives of paying lip service to equal opportunities for candidates with a minority ethnic background and favouring white, middle-class men.

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Witham Tories are understood to be seeking a candidate who will be a strong voice for this part of Mid and North Essex in Parliament. Whoever is chosen will be expected to live in the area.

The constituency, which embraces both sides of the A12 trunk road and the main rail line to London, stretches from Stanway to Hatfield Peverel and includes Tiptree, Marks Tey, Coggeshall, and Kelvedon as well as Witham itself.

n BRANDON Lewis, the 35-year-old leader of Brentwood borough council in south Essex, has been chosen by Great Yarmouth Tories to try to unseat Labour MP Tony Wright, whose majority at the 2005 election was 3,055. The Conservatives need a swing of 3.7% for victory

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