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COMMENT: Theresa May risks grassroots revolt over Tory candidate selection in West Midlands

By Rob Golledge | Politics | Published:

The Conservative Party is parking the tank on traditional Labour territory in the West Midlands.

Tory activists in Dudley

And by the time you read this Tory mayor candidate Andy Street may have already achieved the unthinkable by securing what six months ago would have been considered an unlikely victory over Siôn Simon.

In the Black Country, the Tories smell blood in Wolverhampton South West, Walsall North, Dudley North as well as targeting the likes of Walsall South and Wolverhampton North East on the back of the referendum result last year.

But while Theresa May is predicted to be on course for a landslide, things are not well amongst the rank and file.

There is growing discontent in the Conservative grassroots in the West Midlands over the way the party has handled candidate selection for June 8.

Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) stands accused of running roughshod over local associations and imposing its own hand-picked candidates.

In Walsall both the selections for the Walsall North and Walsall South seats have been mired in controversy.

In Walsall North the candidate from 2015 Douglas Hansen-Luke found himself removed from the shortlist by CCHQ despite there being a presumption that previous candidates would be fast-tracked and the fact he had support locally after spending over two years campaigning in the seat.

In Walsall South members flatly refused to even consider two centrally imposed candidates for the seat because there was no local option. CCHQ had wanted local members to choose between a party official from Cambridgeshire and a council candidate from Stratford-upon-Avon.

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And a similar pattern has emerged across the region where CCHQ is trying to parachute party officials into target seats.

In Birmingham Northfield, Meg Powell-Chandler – a former special adviser to minister Greg Clark, head of briefing at CCHQ and wonk in Cameron’s Downing Street – has been selected. Labour's majority is just 2,509.

And in Edgbaston Caroline Squire – the great, great grand-daughter of Joseph Chamberlain and a former Tory official in the House of Lords – has been chosen as the party's candidate for Birmingham Edgbaston.

In both cases local activists and party members are unhappy at the tactics of CCHQ in getting 'their people' into key seats at the expense of hardworking local members.

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In Stoke on Trent South, CCHQ told local Tories to choose youngster Jack Brereton from a list of one at the expense of Joe Rich who added four per cent to the Tory vote share in 2015 putting him just 2,539 votes from taking the seat. Having worked the seat hard since 2014 he has a lot of support from local Tory councillors.

The national Conservative Party appears determined to fill winnable seats with party apparatchiks who will toe the party line and be in the pocket of the whips come June 9.

But those candidates and CCHQ may find a sudden lack of goodwill among the grassroots to deliver leaflets and knock on doors on their behalf in the coming weeks.

As one well-placed source asked me: What happened to Theresa May's meritocracy?

Rob Golledge

By Rob Golledge
@golledge_star

Part of the Express & Star special projects team responsible for investigations and major stories from politics to counter terrorism

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