Battle lines drawn in Liz Truss saga
Chris Fisher, political editor Battle lines for Monday's 'back or sack' meeting over SW Norfolk Tory candidate Elizabeth Truss were drawn up last night by the local party's executive.
Chris Fisher, political editor
Battle lines for Monday's 'back or sack' meeting over SW Norfolk Tory candidate Elizabeth Truss were drawn up last night by the local party's executive.
At an argumentative 90 minute session, the executive found itself split between her supporters and opponents. The EDP was informed by an anti-Truss member present that those hostile to the candidate seemed to be in the majority. But he continued: “I expect they will bring her supporters in by the bus-load on Monday.”
The executive meeting had been a source of trepidation for Ms Truss's opponents in the Conservative constituency association who suspected that it would be used to 'stitch-up' Monday's meeting to her advantage.
They have told the EDP they want a genuinely independent observer to oversee the procedures and balloting at the showdown meeting at the Swaffham Assembly Rooms.
There is also continuing anger over the U-turn performed this week by the association's chairman, David Hills, who was subjected to robust criticism at the executive meeting by county councillor Shelagh Hutson.
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Monday's meeting - which is being officially described as a “deselection meeting” - will be chaired not by Mr Hills but by a senior figure from outside the constituency. It is understood to be Lord Taylor of Holbeach, a Tory frontbencher in the House of Lords.
Several concerns are being voiced by dissident 'Turnip Taliban' Tories who are querying the legitimacy of Monday's meeting and that on October 24 when Ms Truss was originally chosen as the party's candidate for the constituency.
Among their allegations is one that the role of independent observer at the October 24 meeting was actually filled by the association's acting chairman, Hugh Colver, who has since been identified as a principal supporter of Ms Truss. They assert that the need for the presence of a truly independent invigilator at a selection meeting is laid down in the party rules.
The EDP has asked both the Conservative HQ and the local association - the latter repeatedly - for a discussion on the selection rules, but to no avail.
Monday's meeting has been officially designated a special general meeting rather than a selection meeting, and that could be a way of getting round the need for an independent observer, a senior local Tory official said. “But if you take selection, or deselection out of the meeting, there is nothing left”, he continued.
Members of the anti-Truss camp - which the EDP understands to be split into a number of different factions - are also claiming foul over the exclusion from the October 24 meeting of some 'out of area' activists no longer living in the constituency, and are seeking legal advice on whether the selection decision then taken should be declared null and void.
There is also an ongoing dispute as to whether Ms Truss really did pass the '50pc of the votes plus one' test to get selected on the first ballot that day. The EDP has been told that she won 48 votes out of 96, and that the criterion was met only because there was an abstention and abstentions are excluded under the rules. The ballot papers will be in the possession of regional agent Paul Bolton for three months, and some activists are pondering requesting him to open them up to inspection.
Mr Hills came out in support of Ms Truss on Tuesday, two weeks after previously sending emails complaining that he felt let down by her and that he wanted her deselected.