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10 November 2019

MP anger grows over Conservative candidate selections

The decision to move minister Mims Davies to a safer seat has inspired a furious reaction among colleagues.

By Patrick Maguire

Stories about botched or controversial selections for parliamentary candidates dominated a difficult week for both Labour and the Conservatives. One new candidate for a safe seat, however, has particularly riled Tory MPs: Mims Davies, selected earlier this week in Mid-Sussex. 

Davies, of course, isn’t really a new candidate at all, but a serving minister. Having won Eastleigh in Hampshire from the Liberal Democrats in 2015, she announced that she would not stand again late last month.

Colleagues immediately suspected that she would not leave the Commons but instead seek selection in Mid-Sussex. The county was singled out for special mention in her resignation statement – her children live there – and she is close to Nick Soames, the retiring MP.

Those suspicions have been proven correct – much to the consternation of other members of the 2015 intake. Davies had personal reasons for moving, but that her old seat might be at risk of a loss to the resurgent Liberal Democrats – who held Eastleigh for 21 years before her first victory, and still control the local council – has not been lost on other Tory MPs. 

Two of them, Andrea Jenkyns and Lucy Allan, aired their complaints on WhatsApp groups for Conservative MPs last night. Both have slender majorities and feel that they have been left to struggle by CCHQ while Davies receives preferential treatment. Others grumble that she has gamed the system and embarked on a “chicken run” to a safer seat.

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For many Conservative MPs, Davies’ case is symptomatic of a deeper problem with selections. One member of the government complains of “lots of special advisers on shortlists, and many more poor but connected candidates”. Another frontbencher, defending a tight majority in an English marginal, adds: “It’s a case of ‘who you know’, and ticking the right boxes. There is fury among decent Tory MPs about what Davies has done.” They fear that the price of winning a majority could be a markedly worse parliamentary party.

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Though we can expect to hear plenty about the Labour leadership stitching up selections for its allies before nominations close next Thursday, Conservative MPs believe that their own party’s hierarchy is just as guilty.