Tories at war over association chairman amid claims of bullying

Conservatives in Southend East and Rochford have been plunged into crisis after a special meeting was called to oust the association chairman, sparking claims of “bullying”.

A special meeting, understood to discuss the future of current Southend East and Rochford Conservative Association chairman Gavin Chambers, was booked for Friday but has now been cancelled.

Mr Chambers, who is overseeing the selection of a shortlist to replace Sir James Duddridge as Tory candidate at the general election, confirmed that he believed the meeting had been called to remove him from the role and claimed he had been subject to “bullying” and “undermining behaviour”.

Mr Chambers, who is also running for the Conservatives in the Thorpe ward at Thursday’s local elections, refused to elaborate on the bullying claims. Both Tory leader, Tony Cox, and Sir James, declined to comment on the accusations.

Political analysts at Guido Fawkes claimed the meeting was to “remove association chairman, Gavin Chambers, and parachute a temporary chair to oversee a “fair selection”.

It comes amid fears that by-election rules could be imposed so only three candidates are allowed and could be handpicked by the central Conservative party.

Mr Chambers said: “The meeting has now been cancelled. It was unconstitutional. As a Conservative Party we just need to concentrate on the local elections.”

Mr Chambers said Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) had ruled the way the meeting was called was “not in a manner consistent with the rules of the Conservative Party”.

He added: “I had 25 emails in my support over the weekend. Unfortunately they knew my dog had died at lunchtime and they still sent the email two hours later knowing that.”

Asked if the meeting had been called to challenge his chairmanship, Mr Chambers said: “Yes, I mean who knows why they’ve done it. I certainly have had a very difficult year as chairman with people trying to undermine me and bully me at every opportunity. The majority of the members are hard working.”

An advertisement calling for potential Tory candidates for the Southend East and Rochford seat was only advertised at the beginning of April allowing the so-called “sifting process” by the local party to begin, but this has been put on hold.

Mr Chambers added: “People should be concentrating on the local elections instead of petty squabbles. Because of this action, the sifting committee, CCHQ has delayed this even further now.”

Other candidates in the Thorpe ward are Melissa Aylott (Confelicity), Julie Callow (Green), Adam Isherwood (Heritage Party) Susan Badger (Ind), David Scott (Lab) and Katie Kurilecz (Lib Dem).

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter