Conservative civil war in South West Norfolk

Civil war broke out in the Conservative Party yesterday after the South West Norfolk Tories were branded 'Neanderthal' for defying David Cameron by refusing to re-endorse Elizabeth Truss as its parliamentary candidate.

Civil war broke out in the Conservative Party yesterday after the South West Norfolk Tories were branded “Neanderthal” for defying David Cameron by refusing to re-endorse Elizabeth Truss as its parliamentary candidate.

The gulf between the national leadership and the local Tory association was exposed as local party activists railed against attempts to impose candidates - in what could yet become a wider “peasants' revolt” around the country.

“This is no longer about her affair,” said one senior figure in the association, alluding to Ms Truss. “It's between the national party and local parties which feel they are being talked down to”.

Officers of the association are receiving many messages of support from other local associations angry at pressure to adopt centrally approved candidates - described by one as the “Notting Hill leadership parachuting in candidates from the beautiful people”.

The “Neanderthal” gibe - from EDP columnist Iain Dale who stood for the Conservatives in North Norfolk at the last general election - was part of a bombardment of hostile comment directed at the SW Norfolk association after its executive's decision on Tuesday to vote for reconsideration of the selection of Ms Truss.

The party has been in turmoil since the local association selected Ms Truss as its candidate only to learn hours later that she had an affair with a Tory MP, Mark Field, in 2004-2005.

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Mr Dale declared on his blog yesterday: “It is completely unacceptable for Liz to be treated like this and I have no doubt that it wouldn't be happening if she was male.

“If SW Norfolk Tories are so incompetent that they can't use Google that's their lookout. Their social outlook is Neanderthal.”

The editor of the ConservativeHome website, Tim Montgomerie weighed in saying “the average Conservative member is decent and public-spirited, but SW Norfolk Tories are stretching patience to breaking-point.”

And the local association was accused of “damaging all the work David Cameron and many other forward-thinking associations round the country have done to show how we have changed” by 'chick-lit' fiction writer Louise Bagshawe, the party's parliamentary candidate for Corby. Like Ms Truss, she was a 'Cameron A-list' glitzy candidate.

Inside the local association, there seemed to be a strengthened resolve thoroughly to reconsider Saturday's selection of Ms Truss.

The association's executive voted by 19-14 on Tuesday to refer her selection back to a special general meeting of the membership, expected to be on November 14.

One of the 19 executive members who voted for that complained to the EDP yesterday that they felt they were being treated like “country bumpkins” and being used.

“We are sick to the back teeth”, she said. “This is a very professional person who is using us to get what she wants.

“We want someone who lives with us, supports us and understands us. She seems to think this is a little hiccup that will quickly go away, and we are being treated with contempt.

“You have to have trust and we have been let down. How can we campaign with her? There is egg on her face and ours already.”

She said Ms Truss had not said “sorry” to the executive and “there was no remorse”.

Norfolk and Breckland councillor Cliff Jordan said the abuse being thrown at SW Norfolk showed “the bully boys” at Conservative headquarters “are coming out”.

The main issue, he said, was lack of trust. His advice to his colleagues in SW Norfolk was: “Draw a line under this and start again, She is too much damaged goods.”

Baroness Shephard, who was the SW Norfolk MP from 1987 to 2005, said that “a full meeting of the association is clearly necessary, and I hope it will resolve the issue”.

A spokesman for Mr Cameron declined to make any comment on the row, which generated a lot of extra flying fur yesterday on the internet.

The remarks on Conservative Home, which is used mainly by Tory activists, included one - which drew the displeasure of Lady Shephard - stating: “If Liz quits Norfolk as a scarlet woman, how can she go elsewhere? She should stand and fight. Maybe her sin is that she is an intelligent and articulate woman. In SW Norfolk such a thing must be a rarity.”

But another comment on the website said: “Sorry, guys you've been rumbled. Your clunking hamfisted attempts to manipulate candidate selection has blown back in your faces.”

A senior Norfolk Conservative figure at Westminster said: “If you treat people like idiots they will get their revenge.”

* Conservative HQ confirmed yesterday that since being chosen for SW Norfolk, Ms Truss had withdrawn from selection contests for other seats - including the Surrey constituency of Esher and Walton where she was on a shortlist of six.