Essex Tory chairman steps down over claims he was the victim of 'bullying and homophobia'

Gavin Chambers, former chairman of Southend East and Rochford Conservative Association
-Credit: (Image: Via LDRS)

The chairman of Southend East and Rochford Conservative Association has resigned over claims he was the victim of "bullying and homophobia". Gavin Chambers' decision to quit came just days before activists choose a candidate to fight the General Election to replace Sir James Duddridge.

The association has been in turmoil after attempts to oust Mr Chambers, who was overseeing the selection process for a new Tory candidate. However, at a meeting last week, Mr Chambers resigned as chairman and claimed the Conservative Campaign Headquarters is investigating his complaints about "bullying and homophobia".

New chairman Colin Campbell, Conservative Southend councillor for Southchurch ward, has revealed a candidate will be in place by the end of the week. Mr Chambers said: "Conservative Campaign Headquarters were very supportive as they recognised the potential effects of such spiteful behaviour had on an individual's health.

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"I stood down at this week's annual meeting with dignity and a clear record. CCHQ has thrown out all the complaints made about me but my own complaints about the bullying and homophobia are under further investigation. I am looking forward to my next chapter with my partner of 20 years and a four-month holiday."

After the General Election was called by Rishi Sunak, Conservative Central Office could be set to impose potential candidates under "by-election rules" and members of the association will vote for their favourite.

Mr Campbell said: "By the end of next week we will have a candidate in place and there will be a campaign launch and we'll be raring to go. I've no idea who it's going to be but it's very exciting. We've had lots of people expressing an interest."

Bayo Alaba, Labour's candidate for the seat has already launched his campaign for the July 4 General Election. He said: "We started our campaign from the day I got selected really. We knew it was coming and so we've been out most weekends but we have a date to work to now. We know we need about a 14 per cent swing but we think that's entirely achievable."

Prospective Tory candidates 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. A spokesman for the Conservative Party said: "The Conservative Party has an established code of conduct and formal processes where complaints can be made in confidence. This process is rightly confidential."

Other candidates already selected for the seat are James Allen (Lib Dem), Les Lilly (Reform UK) and Simon Cross (Green).