New blow to Sunak as Tory members demand special meeting to deselect his party chairman as a candidate

New blow to Sunak as Tory members demand special meeting to deselect his party chairman as a candidate

Tory chairman Richard Holden is facing demands that he is deselected as the candidate for Billericay and Basildon in yet another sign of chaos in the party’s election campaign.

Just 24 hours after Mr Holden was imposed on a reluctant constituency association in Essex, The Independent has seen a letter to the association chairman from members demanding a special general meeting to deselect Mr Holden.

The row is a huge distraction for the man who is supposed to be running the Tory election machine to try to retain power with the party more than 20 points behind in the polls.

Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden leaves Downing Street, London, following a Cabinet meeting (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden leaves Downing Street, London, following a Cabinet meeting (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

The letter to the chairman reads:

Dear Chairman,

I am writing to request an immediate emergency Special General Meeting to consider the following motion:

“That this meeting of members of the Basildon and Billericay Conservative Association does not confirm the selection and adoption of Richard Holden as the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Basildon and Billericay Constituency.”

I can confirm the above motion uses wording similar to that used by CCHQ themselves for a similar motion that members voted upon elsewhere, proving that the motion is valid and that the precedence of a confirmatory vote of members has been set.

I believe we should immediately start the process of selecting a new Prospective Parliamentary Candidate.

The row is hugely embarrassing for Rishi Sunak who felt the need to travel back early from the D-Day commemorations to revive his flagging election campaign.

Mr Holden was rejected by the association executive on Tuesday night when they were presented with a shortlist of one.

But on Wednesday they were forced to change their minds with what is understood to have been a threat made to them over local councillors being removed from the Conservative Party.

Mr Holden appeared before the association committee answering questions for an hour and a half for the seat which had a majority of more than 20,000 in 2019 with former MP John Baron.

The constituency is not the only one to have a row with CCHQ (Tory headquarters) over shortlists under election rules after the prime minister called a snap election.

There have been stand-offs in several constituencies including Great Yarmouth and Portsmouth South. In Portsmouth South there may end up being two candidates with the local association refusing to endorse CCHQ’s nominee and instead planning to put forward one of their local members.

here is also fury in East Moray and North Aberdeenshire where the Scottish Tory management board sacked MP David Duguid as the candidate after he had received spinal surgery to replace him with Scottish leader Douglas Ross.

The move in Billericay and Basildon to remove Mr Holden appears to be too late after it was revealed that Mr Holden’s papers have been submitted for him to be the party’s candidate.

But the leader of the Tory group on Basildon Borough Council Andrew Baggott, leader of the opposition at Basildon Borough Council, said: “We’ve known that the seat needed a candidate since last October.

“CCHQ have fobbed us off for months and even last night (Tuesday) we were told that we would have a group of three candidates to choose from.

“This morning, everything had changed. The imposition of a candidate on the good folk of basildon/billericay is absolutely shameful.

“From the get go it appears that the candidates department have been less than honest with the officers of our association and their attitude seems borderline arrogant.

“The executive had very clear criteria for their preferred candidate and the imposed candidate possesses none of them. “It’s a slap in the face to local councillors, volunteers and the membership. We need a conservative here, and local members should be trusted to know what that means and be able to select, democratically, who they want to represent them.

“I’ll be discussing this with fellow members to work out our next steps. We certainly won’t accept this without a fight.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “Richard Holden was unanimously selected last night for Basildon and Billericay after facing questions from the local Association Executive.”

When he spoke to Channel 4 after the selection meeting on Wednesday evening, Mr Holden said: “Obviously a lot fo questions but I got unanimous support from the executive.

“They were really interested in what I have done as an MP.”

On his previous comments of being “loyal to the north east”, he said: “I said that I am ‘bloomin’ loyal to the north east’ because I was the MP for North West Durham. North West Durham no longer exists, it was abolished.

“Let me be very clear, I was loyal to those people who elected me and I stopped being the MP for North West Durham last Thursday when Parliament was dissolved.”