Row reignited over Tory candidates

Divisions within the Tory Party over David Cameron's bid to get “cutie” candidates in place for the next general election look set to surface in another Norfolk constituency.

Divisions within the Tory Party over David Cameron's bid to get “cutie” candidates in place for the next general election look set to surface in another Norfolk constituency.

Speculation is increasing at Westminster and in Norfolk Conservative circles that Keith Simpson, Mid Norfolk MP and Tory candidate for the new Broadland seat, will be made a peer, creating a vacancy that could be filled by a Cameron 'A-list' candidate parachuted in by Conservative HQ.

Mr Simpson, a shadow foreign affairs minister, has stressed that if he being lined up for an ermine robe in the Lords it is without his knowledge.

But the rumour has been circulating at Westminster for weeks, and the possibility that there will soon be a vacancy in Broadland was raised by a senior Tory figure in discussions with party colleagues about the troubled candidate selection process in SW Norfolk.

Local Tories who oppose Elizabeth Truss and resent the pressure for her selection that has come from Mr Cameron and his inner-circle fear the “national v local” trauma in SW Norfolk is to be repeated by the imposition of an all-women candidate shortlist in Broadland.

“South West Norfolk is the thin end of the wedge”, said a prominent member of the so-called 'Norfolk Taliban'. “If he gets away with it there, he'll try to do it again in Broadland.”

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With a candidate selection row having also erupted in the Central Suffolk and Ipswich North constituency, the editor of the ConservativeHome website has warned the party's leadership that local Tory associations “have passed breakpoint”.

“Unhappiness at CCHQ attempts to micromanage seat selections” is “the dominant issue behind the whole saga”, said Tim Montgomerie who has been very supportive of Ms Truss.

He continued: “Alongside some real unhappiness at Liz Truss's private life and a faction within the constituency that wants to restore Christopher Fraser as candidate, HQ meddling accounts for the persistence of this problem.”

Mr Simpson has said the rumour about his going to the Lords was unfounded and being recycled in “an echo chamber”.

But there is strong suspicion among dissident Conservative activists that a decision to ennoble him has already been taken but will be delayed until the new year when new rules will be implemented for the selection of Tory candidates for the general election.

From January 1, Mr Cameron will impose by-election rules that will involve, as he announced last month, the imposition of women-only shortlists in some of the seats that the Conservatives expect to win. “It looks like more Cameron cuties heading for Broadland”, said a local Tory officer.

The Conservatives are favourites to win the new Broadland seat, of which about two-thirds will be taken from the existing Mid Norfolk constituency represented by Mr Simpson. It has been calculated that they would have won there by about 6500 votes in the 2005 general election.

It was originally supposed to be a top Liberal Democrat target seat, largely because close to 20pc of it is in the current North Norfolk seat represented by Norman Lamb. But that party's chances have appeared to recede. It does not even have a candidate following the transfer of April Pond to Norwich North for the July by-election, but is expected to choose one within the next few weeks.

Replacing 60-year-old Mr Simpson, who has represented Mid Norfolk since 1997, with a new Cameron A-lister from outside the county would be a considerable political gamble and would further inflame tensions between local Tories and Conservative HQ that have been exposed in the row over Ms Truss.

Evidence of a big push from the centre to get candidates presenting a new younger, and more modern Tory face into plum seats in East Anglia has been strengthened by a row over a six-person candidate shortlist for the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich seat that doesn't include anyone from the county.

Mr Cameron is understood to be preparing to appoint at least 20 new Tory peers to help a government led by him get legislation through the Lords.

Matters in SW Norfolk will come to a head for her next Monday when Ms Truss faces the threat of deselection at a meeting of the association's members.

She was first selected by the local association on October 24 - winning comfortably, by all accounts, from a mixed slate of national and local candidates, but almost immediately forced to face another selection meeting after details of an extramarital affair came to light.