Poor health prevents MP from attending Parliament

Sir James Duddridge insists he remains committed to serving his constituents after it was revealed he had not voted in person in the Commons so far this year and was accused of “clearing out his desk”.

The Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East announced last year that he will not be standing at the next general election after serving the city since 2005.

Sir James has suffered bouts of ill health in recent years, including being hospitalised and having his gall bladder removed in 2015 and has been advised to “retire and cut back on engagements”.

So far this year, the MP has not been present in the Commons due to his health and has enlisted – as Parliamentary rules allow – a proxy to vote on his behalf, carried out by Rayleigh MP Mark Francois.

A report from political commentator Guido Fawkes claimed Sir James had “already left his office”. It also claimed Alice Hopkin – special advisor to Home Secretary James Cleverley – had “taken a desk there” two days a week.

However, both Sir James and Ms Hopkin – who is understood to be vying for the Tory candidacy – have refuted the claim.

A spokeswoman for Sir James said: “Sir James and his staff are still working from the constituency office, assisting constituents as they get in touch. Contrary to what has been suggested, Alice Hopkin, a potential parliamentary candidate, has not been working here.

“With the local elections campaign operating from the shared office, many potential candidates have been in to support Conservative candidates for the local elections.”

The spokeswoman insisted Sir James remains committed to serving his constituents until he steps down at the election.

A spokesman said: “Following illness in 2010 and subsequent complications with his health in recent years, Sir James received medical advice to retire and cut back on engagements. I is with great sadness that Sir James cannot continue to play a larger role both nationally and locally in Rochford and Southend. Despite his health challenges, Sir James remains committed to serving his constituents directly.”

Ms Hopkin said: “I spend time in Southend with my family and have been helping the fantastic Conservative council candidates when I am able to – as have all the other parliamentary candidates.

“I look forward to getting to know more people in the community in the coming months as the selection process continues.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter