Tories defend selection process

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor A strong defence was mounted last night of selection processes that have resulted in the complete exclusion of local figures from a shortlist of 10 people still in the running to become the Tory candidate for the new parliamentary seat of Mid-Norfolk.

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

A strong defence was mounted last night of selection processes that have resulted in the complete exclusion of local figures from a shortlist of 10 people still in the running to become the Tory candidate for the new parliamentary seat of Mid-Norfolk.

The new list - halved from 20 at the weekend - consists totally of 'A-list' high-flyers that party leader David Cameron wants as candidates, and those who survived the latest cull include ex-Coronation Street star Adam Rickitt and 'chick-lit' novelist Louise Bagshawe.

The arrangements are being overseen by SW Norfolk Conservative agent Ian Sherwood. And in backing the way they are working out, he said that the 15-strong panel which chose the final 10 names was made entirely of party officers and members who will live in the new seat.

He stressed that "a level playing field" had been created, and that the system was neither biased against or in favour of local candidates. He did not know exactly why the two remaining local figures had been eliminated, he added, but knew that the selection panel wanted the "best person for the job" and that the over-riding factor was "merit".

The other people still in the contest are: former parliamentary candidate Vicky Ford; Cambridgeshire-based businessman George Freeman; 2005 CBI entrepreneur of the future Samuel Gyimah; disabled rights champion Maria Hutchings; Brentwood Council leader Brandon Lewis; former deputy leader of Westminster Council Kit Malthouse; West Sussex councillor Anne Marie Morris and Priti Patel, who was a press officer at Conservative Central Office.

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Roy Rudling, long-serving Breckland Conservative councillor from Watton and current Breckland Council chairman, said: "I am disappointed to see there is no local person being interviewed in the last 10 because, quite honestly, it is another case of central headquarters putting something on us.

"We want a local person, in my opinion. I am sure I am not alone in this. We want someone who understands Norfolk and Mid Norfolk and represents us wholeheartedly."

The next stage of the process is officially described as "the big event", and will be held at Dereham Northgate High School on Saturday. Party supporters as well as members will have the chance to quiz the candidates and test how they would fare on doorsteps.

They will sit at tables and the candidates will move around and take questions from each group. Only members will be able to vote, but supporters will be able to fill in a scorecard giving their views, which will be taken into account.

The number of candidates will be cut down to four - expected to be two men and two women - and the final selection will be made at a special general meeting on Saturday October 21.