A long-serving Conservative MP has said he will not stand in the general election, just hours after A-level students revealed he had told them that he believed “homosexuality is wrong” and “dangerous to society”.
Andrew Turner, who has represented the Isle of Wight since 2001, made the comments during a question and answer session at Christ the King College in Newport. One student describing herself as a “passionate campaigner for LGBT rights” asked her local MP if he was involved in the Isle of Wight’s first ever Pride event.
In a post on Facebook, Esther Poucher said she was shocked to the point of outrage by Turner’s response. “He told us that he’d been invited, but wasn’t intending to go. This is because (and this is a direct quote) he thinks that homosexuality is ‘wrong’ and “dangerous to society’,” she wrote.
“At this answer, I had to leave. It’s terrifying that in this age and point in our development as a society, there are still people that can’t care enough about a person’s wellbeing to just accept who they are. And the most terrifying thing is that we as an island consistently vote him in to represent us.”
Labour’s election campaign chair, Andrew Gwynne, had called on Theresa May to “intervene and investigate immediately” and suspend Turner as a Tory candidate if the allegations were found to be true.
“There is no place for bigotry and hatred like this in modern society and no one holding these views is fit for public office.” He said he looked forward to the prime minister speaking out against the suggestion of homophobia in her party to show she was serious about LGBT equality.
The Guardian understands that senior figures in the Conservative party made clear that Turner’s behaviour was unacceptable and that the MP agreed to step aside before he was pushed. One Tory insider said there was “no room in the Conservative party” for homophobic comments.
In his statement, Turner did not mention the row. He wrote: “It has been my privilege to serve the people of the Isle of Wight as their member of parliament.
“I have been incredibly fortunate to represent such a beautiful constituency. After 16 years I have come to the decision that it is time for a new generation to take up the mantle of representing my fantastic constituents.”
He added that he was grateful for the support he had received and would support the Conservative candidate taking his place.
The seat is likely to be popular with Conservative hopefuls given that Turner secured a majority of 13,703 in 2015, representing 41% of the vote. Ukip were in second place with 21%, followed by Labour and the Greens on 13%.
Turner has served on the Conservative’s 1922 committee representing backbenchers and was a vice-chair of the party between 2003 and 2005. His swift decision to step down is in line with an attempt in the Conservative party headquarter’s to keep a close eye on candidates, and try to minimise any sense during the election of elite or extreme views.
Sources said that senior aides to May were doing all they could to try to ensure that new candidates most closely matched her desire to appeal to working class communities that traditionally tended to back the Labour party.
The prime minister has also reconvened the key figures who supported David Cameron’s 2015 successful campaign led by Sir Lynton Crosby, who is yet to move into Conservative headquarters.
She has also brought back Tom Edmonds and Craig Elder who led Cameron’s digital campaign that reached 17 million people a week with bespoke material targeted at key groups of voters. The pair were described as the previous Tory leader’s “secret weapon”. Others back on board include Barack Obama’s former deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina.