Turmoil over South West Norfolk Tory candiate's affair

THE new Tory prospective parliamentary candidate for South-West Norfolk faces possible quick-fire de-selection in a row over an affair with an MP.

THE new Tory prospective parliamentary candidate for South-West Norfolk faces possible quick-fire de-selection in a row over an affair with an MP.

Elizabeth Truss, a 34-year-old 'Cameron A-list' candidate, was chosen to stand in the safe Conservative seat on Saturday. But within a few hours of the decision, further meetings that could rescind it were called to take place this evening or tomorrow.

This extraordinary step came when it was discovered that the Mail on Sunday was about to print a story referring to an 18-month affair that Ms Truss, a married mother of two daughters, had had in 2004-05 with Conservative MP Mark Field who was a frontbencher at the time.

Her survival as the Tory candidate in the Norfolk seat could hinge on the extent to which the local Conservative association had been made aware in the selection process of the affair.

Angry local Conservatives were queuing up yesterday to complain to the EDP that Ms Truss has not mentioned it to the constituency association in the selection process and had kept quiet about it even when she knew that the newspaper was about to run a story on her.

“She must think we are idiots in Norfolk”, said one local Tory officer, who added that by 10am yesterday he had already received half-a-dozen phone calls from fellow-Conservatives who felt they had been misled.

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Reference to Ms Truss's affair with Mr Field can easily be found on the internet. But the EDP understands that she did not inform SW Norfolk Conservative agent Ian Sherwood of it, and that many of the 100 party members gathered at the Swaffham High School for the final stage of the selection had no knowledge of it at all. The Mail story appeared under a headline of “Cameron cutie who had affair with top Tory wins plum seat”.

Ms Truss effectively told the EDP yesterday that she had not told the local association about the affair. “Party officials did know about it”, she said. But when asked at what level, she replied: “National and regional.” When pressed about the SW Norfolk association, she said: “I assumed people knew about it.” She added that “in the selection process a rule is that candidates are not allowed to talk to constituency officers”.

Ms Truss also said that her affair with Mr Field had been in the public domain since 2006 when an article appeared in the Daily Mail. “It's in the past. It's water under the bridge as far as my family and I are concerned.”

In the coming months, she continued, she wanted to concentrate on talking to people in the constituency, which was in a part of the country that has been “neglected by this disastrous government”. She confirmed that she no previous links with Norfolk.

A special meeting of the constituency association's 10-person management team will be held this evening or tomorrow, and a meeting of the 40-strong executive will follow tomorrow. It could be decided to re-run the final stage of the selection process - with or without Ms Truss, who is deputy director of the Reform think tank and a member of Greenwich council in London. She is understood to have won comfortably on Saturday, beating Norfolk raised barrister James Tumbridge into second place.

The mood on the executive yesterday was said by an informed source to be mixed - ranging from “So what? to “extreme anger”.

Some local Tories at Saturday's meeting complained yesterday of pressure from their party's national leadership to choose a woman candidate.

David Cameron announced last week that at the start of next year he would begin imposing all-women candidate lists on some Tory constituency associations, and his inner-circle is expected to make it clear that it does not want Ms Truss's selection to be reversed.

The executive will have to balance that with protests from local Conservatives who feel that they have been made to look fools. It seems that Ms Truss is less vulnerable over the affair than the allegations that she did nothing to make the local association aware of it.

In stark contrast to the new Mid Norfolk Conservative association, which ran an open selection contest to choose its candidate in 2006, the SW Norfolk association stuck to traditional closed arrangements and refused to make names of shortlisted candidates public before selection meetings. It will now face further criticism for doing so.

The association also has a history of getting into difficulty in candidate selection. In 1987 it chose Baroness (Gillian) Shephard in a re-run after the initial choice of a male barrister from Oxfordshire caused a revolt within its ranks.

In 2004 the hot favourite to succeed her as the Tory candidate, Nick Hurd, fell at the final hurdle when failing to give a clear commitment to make his main home in the constituency. He was beaten by Christopher Fraser, who is now stepping down after MPs' expenses revelations disclosed that he had claimed 'second home' allowance money on his property in Norfolk.

The EDP yesterday spoke yesterday to several leading Tories in the county about Ms Truss's selection. They refused to be identified as the source of information.