CONSERVATIVES have chosen their candidate to fight a key target seat at the next general election after using a selection process for what is believed to be the first time in the North East.
Leading Tory activist Anne-Marie Trevelyan was picked to contest the Berwick seat – held for almost 40 years by Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith – at an American-style open primary at the weekend.
Mrs Trevelyan came within 2,690 votes of toppling Sir Alan at the at the 2010 general election, when the result represented an 8.3% swing from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives.
Berwick is now regarded as a key marginal, and one of the Tories’ 40 target seats across the country for the 2015 election.
Mrs Trevelyan emerged victorious from a three-way contest to be the party’s candidate at the open primary held in Alnwick’s Northumberland Hall on Friday night.
More than 300 registered voters turned up to see Mrs Trevelyan and her two rivals – Chris Galley and Lucille Nicholson – interviewed about their policies by Conservative MP for Stockton South, James Wharton.
They faced 20 minutes of questions from members of the audience who then took part in a secret ballot in which Mrs Trevelyan secured the required 50% plus one of the total votes in the first round.
The chartered accountant and leading campaigner for A1 dualling in Northumberland was formally selected as the candidate to take Sir Alan on again at the next election.
Yesterday Conservative Party officials hailed the open primary event as a major success in helping to open up the political and selection process to the general public.
John Rae, chairman of the Berwick-upon-Tweed Conservative Association, said: “We were delighted with the whole process, and to get more than 300 people to turn up at Alnwick on a cold winter’s night was a very good response to opening up politics.
“We were delighted with the calibre of all three candidates and those present chose Anne-Marie to fly the flag for us in 2015. The whole idea was to engage with the general public and show that the political process is interesting and vibrant.
“We believe that this time the Conservatives have a very, very good chance of taking Berwick, and think this selection process has strengthened our position.”
Last night Mrs Trevelyan, a governor at Berwick Academy and Northumbria Healthcare Trust, said some party members had been bemused by the decision to hold an open primary, but had found it an interesting process.
“I can see why the party brought it in as one of the selection options,” she said.
“It was a really interesting experience to be part of, and I’m honoured that people chose in such numbers to support me. Hopefully we can take that though to electoral success in 2015.
“Politics is the most unpredictable game, but I’m hopeful that the work we will continue to do, on things like A1 dualling and broadband, will be enough to secure the voters’ confidence.”
The open primary was described by the Conservatives as “an unprecedented move in North East politics”.
Glen Sanderson, deputy leader of the Tory group on the county council, said: “Everyone feels that the open primary was a huge success, and the result gives Anne-Marie a great boost in her own personal standing.”