Chaos as Tory chairman put on a shortlist of one to ensure he gets a seat

A fresh embarrassment has emerged for Rishi Sunak after Conservative Party chiefs were forced to put his hand-picked chairman Richard Holden on a shortlist of one to ensure he had a seat to fight.

Mr Holden is the only name listed for the Basildon and Billericay seat in Essex which had a majority of 20,412 in 2019.

The move has caused fury in the local association which, it is understood, had already been in a stand-off with CCHQ because it wanted its own shortlist and not the one imposed by party bosses.

But now the party has used emergency election rules which allow them to impose a single candidate 48 hours before the deadline.

But it is understood that the local association chairman has protested by cancelling the special general meeting to make the selection.

Holden is on a shortlist of one for the safe seat (Getty)
Holden is on a shortlist of one for the safe seat (Getty)

One member said: "Given the wobbly (at best) state of the national campaign at the moment, it's a real kick in the teeth to the hundreds of dedicated candidates, not to mention the tens of thousands of activists, who are struggling valiantly for the party, to see the attention of the party chairman selfishly centred on himself.

"How does he expect to be able to help other candidates across the country if he's running around trying to impose himself on constituencies, after running away from his own?"

Imposing Mr Holden as the candidate allows Mr Sunak to avoid the humiliation of being unable to find his chairman a seat to fight in the election when he was supposed to be coordinating the national campaign.

Mr Holden had already been resisted by members in Basildon and Billericay and Northamptonshire South. He had pulled his name from the selection for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich after members there are understood to have objected.

Leading the outrage was Andrew Baggott, leader of the Tory opposition group on Basildon Borough Council.

He said: “We’ve known that the seat needed a candidate since last October.

“CCHQ have fobbed us off for months and even last night (Tuesday) we were told that we would have a group of three candidates to choose from.

“This morning, everything had changed. The imposition of a candidate on the good folk of basildon/billericay is absolutely shameful.

“From the get go it appears that the candidates department have been less than honest with the officers of our association and their attitude seems borderline arrogant.

“The executive had very clear criteria for their preferred candidate and the imposed candidate possesses none of them.

“It’s a slap in the face to local councillors, volunteers and the membership. We need a conservative here, and local members should be trusted to know what that means and be able to select, democratically, who they want to represent them.

“I’ll be discussing this with fellow members to work out our next steps. We certainly won’t accept this without a fight.”

Mr Holden had suffered because of perceptions that he was on a so-called “chicken run” from the North East after his North West Durham constituency disappeared in the boundary review. He had rejected the chance of standing in neighbouring Bishop Auckland, vacated by fellow Tory MP Dehenna Davison who is quitting politics, because it was seen as unwinnable.

However, the bigger objections to Mr Holden appear to be his closeness to Mr Sunak and anger among ordinary activists over the way the government has been conducted under his leadership, as well as the forcing out of Boris Johnson and efforts in the current election campaign.

There has been criticism at the way special advisers from Downing Street have been parachuted into winnable seats.

The Conservative Party said Mr Holden’s candidacy would only be confirmed on Friday when nominations for people standing officially close.

Basildon and Billericay became vacant as a result of the retirement of Brexiteer Tory MP John Baron.

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “We do not comment on selections.”