Tory chair Richard Holden’s Basildon selection angers local Conservative members

Conservatives in Basildon may challenge the decision to ensure national Tory chairman Richard Holden becomes the area’s parliamentary candidate.

Mr Holden, until recently the MP for North West Durham, was the sole candidate presented on what was expected to be a shortlist of three names for Basildon constituency candidates, according to local Tory members.

The former MP has held several ministerial roles, as well as chairmanship of the Conservative Party, and would replace John Baron, who announced he would stand down as an MP in October last year.

Basildon and Billericay is regarded as a safe Conservative seat, with Mr Baron having won a majority of 20,412 over his nearest Labour opponent in 2010.

The decision has prompted consternation among local Conservatives, with the party’s group leader on Basildon council branding the central Tory office as “shameful” and claiming he would not campaign for Mr Holden.

Andrew Baggott told the PA news agency: “They have given no choice of candidate to the association, no choice of candidate to the membership. They have shown complete disrespect and arrogance to all the party volunteers, all the party members, hardworking Conservatives in this borough. They are shameful.”

He added: “They are lacking in integrity, honour, and these are the things that the public looks for in the people they want to run this country.”

The Conservative councillor said association members were “exploring” options to fight the decision.

A meeting of the Basildon Conservative Association’s executive council is expected to take place on Wednesday night to discuss next steps.

Mr Baggott added: “Of course we are running out of time, because the nominations have to be in by 4pm on Friday. We have to organise people. It is deliberately being left to the last minute to prevent any action being able to be taken.”

Asked by PA if he would campaign for Mr Holden, he said: “Absolutely not. Sorry, I will be campaigning for Stephen Metcalfe in the neighbouring authority. I will be campaigning for Mark Francois. I will not be campaigning for somebody that is being imposed upon us.”

Richard Moore, chairman of the local association, said Mr Holden’s candidacy was “a complete surprise” to local members.

He suggested the Conservative Party’s central office had “stacked everything against us” in how the selection was handled.

Mr Moore told PA: “What we find ourselves with is unfortunately this wholly undemocratic process need never have been necessary as the previous MP John Baron had announced that he would stand down at the next general election in October last year.

“So, association members are very disappointed that the party, after seven months, has imposed one candidate and have not given the opportunity for several candidates to be considered by the members of the association.”

He added: “We have been absolutely frustrated with the selection process, we have had the vacancy for seven months and party headquarters waited until two days before nominations close to give us one candidate. I mean, it is really not right. It is not cricket as one would say.”

Mr Moore also suggested potential candidates who had hoped to make the list were disappointed by the decision after taking part in campaigning ahead of May’s local elections.

The chairman said: “All of that work, time and effort is all wasted, because Conservative Party headquarters want to parachute their man into the constituency. It is just not fair on those people that have given up their time, and in some cases money, to get here and do all of this.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “We do not comment on selections.”