Only two locals up for Norfolk seat

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor Norfolk became the battleground for David Cameron's controversial candidates A-list strategy last night as it emerged that just two locals had made it to the 20-strong Tory short-list for the key Mid-Norfolk seat.

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

Norfolk became the battleground for David Cameron's controversial candidates A-list strategy last night as it emerged that just two locals had made it to the 20-strong Tory short-list for the key Mid-Norfolk seat.

Grassroots Conservatives voiced anger that people with a passion for the county were being ditched in favour of outsiders for what is regarded as a safe Tory seat.

Breckland Council leader William Nunn, who has won wide support for his policies and desire to fight Norfolk's corner, spoke of his “shock” at being rejected as a candidate for the newly reorganised seat without even an interview - and condemned a system against those interested in standing only in a local seat”.

Long-serving Tory councillor and current Breckland chairman Roy Rudling said: “I would like to see a homegrown MP for Mid Norfolk.

“I don't think there should have been an A and B list. I feel somebody from this area - and we have plenty who suit the job - is what we require. I would love to see William Nunn.”

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Mr Cameron has upset many Tory traditionalists by introducing the A-list system to make his party more representative of society in the Commons by ensuring more women and people from ethnic minorities.

President of the mid-Norfolk Conservative Association John Birkbeck strongly objected to candidates being chosen on the basis of sex, sexuality or ethnic background, adding: “Women should not be MPs because they are female, but because they are good MPs. It is the same for ethnic minorities and homosexuals. What is important is that they are good.

“Any party that produced Mrs Thatcher does not need to prove its female credentials.”

Like former Norfolk MP David Prior, Mr Nunn failed to get on the shortlist - and the two “local” candidates out of 20 include James Tumbridge, who stood unsuccess-fully against Ian Gibson in Norwich North in 2005.

The new Mid-Norfolk seat has come about through boundary changes which have created Norfolk's ninth parliamentary seat - Broadland. Mid Norfolk will keep about a third of the area of the current seat represented by Keith Simpson, who has been adopted for Broadland.

The 18 from the top-priority A-list include: Laura Sandys, a foreign and defence policy specialist and, as the daughter of former defence minister Sir Duncan Sandys, a member of a distinguished Tory family; chic-lit novelist Louise Bagshawe; Anne McIntosh, the MP for Vale of York whose seat is disappearing in boundary changes; Jesse Norman, a policy guru to Mr Cameron; George Freeman, a Cambridgeshire-based businessman who stood for Stevenage in 2005; Kit Malthouse, who has served as deputy leader of Westminster Council; Vicky Ford, who stood in Birmingham Northfield at the last general election; and Dominic Scofield, who reduced Labour's majority in Battersea at the last election to 163 votes.

Originally, Conservative Central Office wanted the Mid-Norfolk contest to be 100pc A-list, and Tory leaders in the county had to fight for the inclusion of local candidates.

Mr Nunn, a 40-year-old farmer, said he thought he was well qualified to stand for Mid Norfolk.

He had never liked the A-list, he said, because he did not believe in “positive discrimination” and considered it a form of “social engineering” and an example of a “self-righteous, we know what is best for you” attitude.

Mr Nunn was not on the A-list himself, he said, partly because he thought it was wrong in principle and also because people on it had to be willing to stand anywhere. “I want to be an MP only for Norfolk, which to me is a special place”, he said.

One Conservative not opposed to the new system is Norfolk County Council cabinet member from Dereham John Gretton.

He said: “Mid Norfolk is a jewel in the Conservative crown. We want to find somebody who will be in the cabinet.”

The shortlist will be interviewed on Saturday and Sunday by the local selection committee and reduced to 10. On October 14, they will be asked to meet party members and invited supporters at Dereham. The non-members will score the candidates, then members will vote for four, two of whom must be women.

The winner will be selected on October 21.