South west Norfolk Tories defy David Cameron

Leading South-West Norfolk Tories openly defied David Cameron last night in refusing to re-endorse Elizabeth Truss as their prospective parliamentary candidate.

Leading South-West Norfolk Tories openly defied David Cameron last night in refusing to re-endorse Elizabeth Truss as their prospective parliamentary candidate.

Within hours of his publicly backing her, they decided to call a special general meeting to reconsider her candidature, only three days after selecting her as their candidate.

The decision "to review the candidate" was made at what was described as a fractious but courteous two-hour meeting of the constituency association's executive which Ms Truss addressed.

The move was approved by 19 votes to 14, and the meeting is expected to be held on or about November 14.

The association has been in turmoil since learning, only hours after selecting Ms Truss, that the Mail on Sunday was to publish an article about an affair she had had in 2004-05 with a Conservative MP, Mark Field.

It seems many, if not all, of the people at the selection meeting - and indeed even local party agent Ian Sherwood - had been told nothing about the affair either by her or by national and regional officials.

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Any decision last night other than one to back Ms Truss again was bound to be seen as a snub to Mr Cameron and a potentially lethal move politically for her. "This is not good news for her", said a senior figure in the association. "She could have got a ringing endorsement, but plainly she didn't."

Ms Truss addressed the meet-ing for 15-20 minutes. It is not clear whether she apologised for not telling the association of the affair, but she was said to have shown "understanding of the anger in the room".

At the special meeting, the assoc-iation will decide whether to back her or to sack her. If it is the latter, the selection process will be reopened.

Ms Truss left Swaffham Conserv-ative Club about an hour after the end of last night's meeting and made no comment.

Earlier, Mr Cameron had urged the local Tories not to drop her and insisted that her affair had been public knowledge before she was chosen as Norfolk candidate.

"This information that has come out was publicly known about, and I very much hope they can just get on with this selection that they have made and give her the support she deserves and make sure that she is elected as the next member of parliament for South-West Norfolk", he told a London press conference.

"I am delighted that Elizabeth Truss has been selected; she is an excellent candidate, and I hope that they can go forward with her."

Ms Truss, one of Mr Cameron's

"A-list" preferred candidates, is deputy director of the Reform think tank and a councillor in Greenwich. She is 34, is married to Hugh O'Leary and has two daughters.

The EDP was told before the execu-tive meeting that local opinion had been hardening against Ms Truss through the day and that this had become more marked after Mr Cam-eron's intervention. Tension bet-ween the local party and national leadership rose further last night when a Conservative HQ press officer was sent to Swaffham to manage the presentation of the meeting to the media.

He stated after its conclusion that "we continue to think she is an excellent candidate, and she has our full support".

In publicly endorsing Ms Truss, Mr Cameron

chose to ignore advice from senior colleagues that any such move

could prove counter-productive.

Now he must decide whether to continue to throw his weight behind her - or back off.

Chris Fisher's Inside Politics - Page 18