Express & Star

'Shambles' as Tories fail to select candidate in Walsall South

The Conservatives are still without a candidate for the Walsall South seat after a heated meeting amongst party members.

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Alicia Kearns and Jonathan Gullis were put forward as candidates by Conservative Campaign Headquarters

With the General Election just five weeks away, members refused to back either of the two candidates shortlisted by Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ).

Party chiefs in London put forward Alicia Kearns and Jonathan Gullis – neither of whom have any connection to Walsall – for selection.

A party insider branded it as a 'shambles' and said members were 'angry' that candidates had been 'imposed' on them without a local option.

They added that their chances of winning the seat from Labour were reducing 'by the day'.

Ms Kearns is deputy chairman of Cambridge City Conservative Association and a former press secretary to Chris Grayling when he was Justice Secretary.

While Mr Gullis is a Conservative council candidate from Stratford-Upon-Avon and a teacher in Castle Vale, Birmingham.

Valerie Vaz

Walsall South is a Labour stronghold but party officials have designated it as a target seat because Labour's Valerie Vaz has a 6,007 majority but two years ago 6,540 people voted UKIP.

CCHQ believes the seat is winnable because Walsall overwhelmingly voted for Brexit.

The likely outcome now is that a candidate will be imposed on the seat by Tory chiefs in London.

A source said: "There are all sorts of shenanigans going on and it is clear CCHQ in London think they can get their own people – special advisers or party wonks – into winnable seats.

"It stinks and local members are not happy. Walsall South is a target seat and winnable but Valerie Vaz must be rubbing her hands together at this mess.

"If a candidate with no local knowledge or experience is chosen then they will have no support on the ground."

It is the second row to embroil Walsall Conservatives during the campaign after a candidate selection split in Walsall North.

Last night it emerged that former Walsall North Conservative candidate Douglas Hansen-Luke had not even been shortlisted by CCHQ to stand after narrowly missing out on the seat in 2015 and having the backing of local supporters.

Streetly councillor Eddie Hughes, chairman of whg, was selected to fight the seat by members at the meeting on Tuesday after beating Mohammed Hanif Asmal from Leicestershire who previously stood for the Liberal Democrats in Walsall South at the 2005 General Election.