Pickles branded ‘dictator’ after deselection failure

By Alex Stevenson

Conservative party chairman Eric Pickles was accused of being a “dictator” after PPC Elizabeth Truss saw off a bid to deselect her last night.

The South West Norfolk Conservative Association voted by 132 votes to 37 in favour of retaining her as their candidate at the coming general election, amid claims from some they had been misled over her affair with a Tory MP.

Ms Truss allegedly covered up her liaison with Mark Field, which took place five years ago.

She accepted she had to “answer questions” but told the BBC afterwards local constituents were not interested in the “flim flam that’s been in the press”.

Her affair appears to have been a pretext for malcontents within the South West Norfolk Tory group to raise simmering tensions about the selection of candidates.

Current rules state that the final shortlist will be agreed in consultation with the chairman of the party and have agreement with both parties before proceeding to the next stage.

Chairman Eric Pickles denies ever having used the veto, but many local associations are suspicious of what they see as interference from London.

Tory John Strafford, speaking to the today programme, said: “I hope that many associations will take heart from the actions of South West Norfolk and they will also stand up to interference from Conservative Central Office.

Mr Pickles responded: “You mustn’t believe all the things you read in the newspapers.

“I’ve never used the veto. The Conservative party always tries to work by the basis of consensus. That’s the way these selections are going to be run.”

Outside the deselection meeting yesterday evening, prominent Tory Sir Jeremy Bagge said he blamed Conservative Central Office rather than Ms Truss.

“I’m not proud to be a Conservative just at this given moment,” he told reporters.

“Conservative Central Office deceived us and they’ve betrayed us. They are very strong words, and that’s how I feel.”

Ms Truss described recent weeks as “energetic”.

“There’s an element of hurtfulness but I accept… when you put yourself in the spotlight you put yourself in a certain degree of scrutiny,” she said.