Tory candidates for Duddridge seat in limbo

Tories in Southend East and Rochford appear to be stuck in a state of limbo with mystery surrounding the party’s selection process to replace sitting MP Sir James Duddridge, who is stepping down.

Labour’s candidate Bayo Alaba wasted no time in kick-starting his election bid with a rally of party activists in Southend High Street following Rishi Sunak’s sudden announcement on Wednesday.

But as a result of the general election being called, the Tories in the constituency could now face Conservative Central Office imposing potential candidates for selection process under “by-election rules”.

It is not clear whether any leading Tories campaigning for selection would be on the list of candidates vying for selection. These include former Southend councillor Alex Bright, teacher Louise Lawton, Alice Hopkin – special adviser to Home Secretary James Cleverly – and former parliamentary candidates Michelle Lowe and Gavin Haran, who have been campaigning in Southend.

The Tory selection process was “paused” earlier this month when the Southend East and Rochford Conservative Association attempted to oust its chairman Gavin Chambers who was overseeing the process.

Repeated attempts to contact Mr Chambers have been unsuccessful and it remains unclear whether he is still chairman following rumours an association meeting was held on Wednesday.

Despite fears Conservative Central Office could impose a list of candidates, Daniel Nelson, Conservative councillor for Southchurch Ward, stressed the decision would remain local.

He said: “When we select our candidate we will be looking for someone who is going to invest highly in Southend as their first choice.

“The rules are that it’s not that we can have someone imposed. That’s absolutely not the case as our members will have a say on who the candidate is.

“However, we go through essentially the same process we had in Southend West after the passing of Sir David (Amess). Members will be given a choice of three candidates and they will choose from that.

“We will be putting forward a candidate who is not using Southend as a springboard but using Southend as their first choice as a career to represent our city.”

The Labour Party has also yet to choose who will stand in Southend West with former councillor Aston Line and St Laurence Ward councillor Lydia Hyde both vying for the post.

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter