Two-hour candidacy meeting heads off ‘full-scale rebellion’ among Tories in Basildon and Billericay

Tory party campaigners in Billericay have warned their new parliamentary candidate has only a single term to prove himself after they almost rebelled and planned to support an independent candidate.

The local Conservative party in Basildon and Billericay had been ready to campaign on behalf of an independent candidate following a Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) decision to bring in the national party chairman Richard Holden at the last minute to stand in the seat vacated by long standing MP Jon Baron, quashing any opportunity for a local Tory member to represent the party at the general election on July 4.

Before a two-hour emergency meeting that did eventually quell the rebellion, association member Councillor Andrew Baggott described the decision to make Mr Holden the only option in the Tory candidate poll for the seat as a “kick in the teeth” for local party campaigners.

He added there had been “a lot of seething people who are seriously questioning their membership of the party”.

Since 2019 Mr Holden has been MP for North West Durham, nearly 300 miles north of the Essex constituency he now hopes to represent.

Mr Holden’s former seat is being abolished as part of a scheduled review of UK constituency boundaries for this year’s election, meaning he has had to find another one.

It is believed that CCHQ used emergency rules which allow a single candidate to be imposed 48 hours before the deadline to announce candidates.

Councillor Phil Turner, deputy chairman of the association, agreed there were “daggers drawn” when CCHQ announced Mr Holden would be the only choice in the Tory candidate poll for Basildon and Billericay.

He said: “I can’t describe it any other way than a full-on rebellion. That is what it was planning to be.”

But in the course of a two-hour grilling, Mr Holden convinced the executive he was worthy of the nomination.

Councillor Turner said: “Effectively he won over the executive. I don’t think they fully appreciated that was going to happen because at 7pm when we met, there was full-on rebellion. All I can say is we don’t like the position we find ourselves in with CCHQ.

“But having heard him, the executive would not have endorsed him readily had he not been a worthy candidate.”

He added: “At the end of the day people forget that we are sending someone to parliament to conduct business for the association.

“That is not like tapping someone on the back – you have been born and bred in Billericay. Give it a go.

“This means a lot to us and a lot to other people.

“We always want to get the best candidate we possibly can and we would have preferred a process where we could have vetted them, had a contest and selected the right person.

“If this guy had been a lame duck you would have had that rebellion and the rebellion would have started the next day.

“What we have seen is there is someone there who we can hold our hands up and offer to the electorate to say ‘have a look at this guy. He’s absolutely spot on Conservative’. I would even go as far to say a true Conservative.

“We would not have backed him had he not been worthy. He was convincing – there was no anecdotalls.”

Cllr Turner said he pressed Mr Holden on video clips of him being loyal to his northern constituency before he had turned his attention to Essex.

He added: “It was convincing with plausible argument and examples of where he can do a job in parliament but a job in the constituency.

“One of the things we said to him was the acid test – are you going to be walking down the high street? Are we going to be seeing you in Basildon town centre? Are you going to be buying a pound of sausages from the local butcher?

“He said that’s what he did in his former constituency. We’ll hold him to that.”

He added that Mr Holden has been told he has a term to prove his credentials.

He said: “The association would have put that to any candidate. He has a term in parliament. There are no second chances. If that term does not work out as we believe it should then we will think again come the next election.

“The rebellion was real and was not just someone’s fascinations. That was a real threat.

“Richard Holden, if he gets elected, will have a term of office where we will see if all these fine words come to fruition, and if not the association will think again.”

He added: “It’s nice to get to a point where all your worries about having a candidate you can legitimately say to the electorate that this guy is worthy of your vote – all the stress vanishes as a result of that. If we had a lame duck and we were going rebellion the ramifications are widespread.

“They remove the association, we all get kicked out of the party. We don’t do that lightly and that’s where we were last night.”

There has been widespread condemnation of the CCHQ decision – Tim Montgomerie writing on X (formally Twitter) said: “Utterly disgraceful. I hope Billericay Conservatives tell Tory HQ to get lost.”

“The hurt of people I’ve been speaking to who have given their lives to the party and treated badly does make me wonder about the current Conservative leadership. If they treat their own like this how will they treat other people?”

The other parties’ candidates standing for the Basildon and Billericay seat are Christopher Bateman, British Democratic Party; Stephen Conlay, Reform UK; Stewart Goshawk, Green Party; Alex Harrison, Labour Party; and Edward Sainsbury; Liberal Democrats.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter