Tory u-turn over Liz Truss scandal
Chris Fisher, political editorDavid Cameron looks to have won his fight to get Elizabeth Truss readopted as Tory candidate in SW Norfolk after a sensational somersault by the local association chairman.Chris Fisher, political editor
David Cameron looks to have won his fight to get Elizabeth Truss readopted as Tory candidate in SW Norfolk after a sensational somersault by the local association chairman.
Two days after returning from a cruise off Hong Kong, David Hills issued a statement saying that he, MP Christopher Fraser, agent Ian Sherwood and other officers are supporting Ms Truss and that he would be 'working with my team to build a consensus around Elizabeth'.
But the EDP was also informed yesterday that Mr Hills had played a very different tune just after a storm had broken over Ms Truss's candidature, and that he had sent an email from his 'honeymoon' boat trip to tell an emergency executive meeting that 'he felt badly let down and that he was supporting the call for her deselection'.
That meeting subsequently decided not to re-endorse her following revelations that she had had an adulterous affair the association had not been informed about.
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Opponents of Ms Truss were stunned yesterday as news spread that Mr Hills had agreed to toe the national leadership line over Ms Truss and has run up the white flag over the constituency party's offices in Swaffham.
'Good god! I have been knocked sideways by this. This is the result of all the arm-twisting. This doesn't at all match my understanding of his attitude. I don't understand why people succumb to pressure from London so easily', said a leading figure in the 'Turnip Taliban' resistance to Ms Truss.
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Others also speculated that Mr Hills had either been bullied by lieutenants of Mr Cameron or had taken fright after being mentioned in the Sunday press last weekend.
His statement said that Ms Truss 'must not be blamed for any discrepancy between the association and the centre about information that she declared when she became a candidate' and that 'the matter has been whipped up by the media'.
'I stress that we in SW Norfolk have no problem at all with women candidates - our members selected Elizabeth Truss on merit from a mixed short-list', he continued.
Mr Hills also put his authority on the line by stating that any course other than continuing with Ms Truss 'will not have my backing'.
His statement was welcomed by former SW Norfolk MP Baroness (Gillian) Shephard, who said that Ms Truss had been 'just amazing' in making efforts to win over opinion and that the chairman had reacted to a 'groundswell' in her favour.
But two members of the association executive admitted to being astonished after learning of Mr Hills's move from the EDP. 'He has certainly changed his tune', said one of them, Breckland councillor Robert Childerhouse. He and his aggrieved colleague both felt they should have been consulted before a move of such significance.
There are 40 members of the executive and it was unclear how many of them knew anything about Mr Hills's statement in advance of its official release. It will meet on Friday, and the chairman can expect to be asked to give a full explanation for his U-turn. Attention may focus on a meeting at Conservative HQ in London last week that was attended by three leading figures in the association.
A decision on whether Ms Truss should remain the candidate in SW Norfolk will be taken at a special general meeting of the association on Monday. Mr Hills's statement of support should clinch it for her - unless he is seriously at odds with mainstream thinking in the association about Ms Truss.
He has asked for 'closure' at the meeting so that the association can 'put this behind us'.