Tories voice fury as local activist ousted

A bitter dispute has erupted among Conservative activists after one of David Cameron's A-list candidates was selected ahead of a prominent local councillor to fight its top target seat in the North-East.

Wendy Morton

A bitter dispute has erupted among Conservative activists after one of David Cameron's A-list candidates was selected ahead of a prominent local councillor to fight its top target seat in the North-East.

Wendy Morton, a councillor in Richmondshire, North Yorkshire, will be the Conservatives' challenger to Labour MP Alan Campbell in Tynemouth at the next General Election.

The choice sparked anger among supporters of senior North Tyneside councillor Michael McIntyre, who fought the constituency in 2005.

One supporter, Robert Newton, wrote on a grassroots activists' website: "Tynemouth constituency needed a local candidate. To the muppets down south in party HQ who regard anything north of Potter's Bar as `Up North' I've got news for you: North Yorkshire isn't local to Tynemouth, not by a long chalk."

Another, Audrey Wetherby, said on the ConservativeHome[ok] internet site: "The Labour MP here lives in the constituency and will make mincemeat of such an outsider."

Under selection rules, party members in the constituency select a shortlist of four to go through to an interview stage. Coun McIntyre is believed to have topped members' choice.

Mrs Morton, in contrast, did not make it onto the original shortlist, but was put on it when two of the four dropped out. The constituency party's executive then chose her ahead of Coun McIntyre after interviews.

She does, however, have links to the North-East, having fought the Newcastle Central seat in 2005, finishing third, and previously running an electronics business with her husband David in Wooler, Northumberland.

Mrs Morton, 39, said yesterday: "I've made a lot of contacts in the area and I really like the North-East. I find the people very warm. I wanted a seat that I feel passionately about and Tynemouth to me is that seat."

She has pledged to visit Tynemouth every week until the General Election - which may not take place until May 2010 - and said: "I want to get myself established with a base in the constituency."

Despite having to overturn a 5,532 Labour majority, Mrs Morton said: "I firmly believe there's a strong foundation there that we can build on, and yes, we can do it."

Coun McIntyre said: "I'm obviously disappointed, but I accept the decision." The A-list of recommended candidates was designed to help more women and ethnic minorities be selected in winnable seats.

Tynemouth is seen as the Conservatives' best chance of winning a second North-East seat, though party activists also have hopes in Berwick and the new Sunderland Central constituency.

Mr Campbell said: "I'd like to congratulate Wendy Morton on her selection and look forward to meeting her when she visits Tynemouth.

"I'm surprised that the Conservatives have chosen someone who does not live in the constituency and would appear to have no previous link in Tynemouth except to use it as a stepping stone to Parliament.

"This decision will be a blow to party activists and supporters who no longer know where their party is headed under David Cameron and now have no local champion to work or vote for."


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Looks like a case of anyone but McIntyre

The ConservativeHome website was set up by Tim Montgomerie, former political secretary to ex-leader Iain Duncan Smith, as a means of interacting with grass roots members.

The selection of Wendy Morton in Tynemouth has sparked a major debate between contributors to the website.

Some of the comments posted include:

"While I do not, in any way belittle Wendy Morton's ability, credentials and strength of purpose, the best chance we had of recapturing Tynemouth was by selecting McIntyre.

"There will be one heck of a celebration in Labour Party HQ tonight. Their job has quite possibly become a lot easier.

"Foisting Cameron's A-list on the party will only turn round and bite him.

"Tynemouth is no stranger to a woman MP. Dame Irene Ward served the constituency well from 1950 to 1974 - before that she was MP for Stephen Byers' seat, Wallsend. We don't need an A-list. The best and most appropriate candidate should be selected, regardless of gender, colour or creed.

"Sadly, I suspect for some of those on the executive selection panel it was a case of `anyone but McIntyre', which is a completely unfair reflection on the winning candidate, and something that I fear the local Labour Party will leap upon.

"Now grassroots Tories will have to endure another round of taunts from Labour activists as we did in the 2001 General Election.

"Tynemouth constituency needed a local candidate. To the muppets down south in party HQ who regard anything north of Potter's Bar as `Up North' I've got news for you: North Yorkshire isn't local to Tynemouth, not by a long chalk."
Robert Newton

"Have Tynemouth Conservatives' executive lost their senses? Tynemouth was the only likely Tory gain in the North-East in a general election, but was always going to be hard work, yet the executive has picked a candidate who does not live in the constituency, and doesn't even live in the North-East region.

"Even worse, she wasn't on the shortlist of four candidates which the members chose by ballot last week - she was only put on the list after two of those four dropped out in the last few days.

"Wendy Morton should never have been on the list today - the executive should only have considered those candidates whom the members actually wanted, not someone they rejected.

"The Labour MP here lives in the constituency and will make mincemeat of such an outsider ...

"Today's decision is a disaster."
Audrey Wetherby

"Well done Wendy. You worked very hard in the last General Election in Tyneside. You have also been a great support to the North-East Conservative Party since by supporting candidates in local council by-elections and attending fundraising functions. You will be a great candidate in Tynemouth and I look forward to getting a bit of sea air when I come out and help you on the election trail."
Charles Heslop

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