March 7 2014 Latest news:
John Elworthy, Editor
Friday, January 17, 2014
Farmer Colin Barker, a self-styled ‘working class Tory’, has quit the SE Cambs Conservative Association in the wake of ‘Ballot-gate’, alleging “democracy and integrity are all out of the window”.
Farmer Colin Barker, a self-styled ‘working class Tory’, has quit the SE Cambs Conservative Association in the wake of ‘ballot-gate’, alleging “democracy and integrity are all out of the window”.
Mr Barker, a former district council candidate and a member of the SE Cambs Association for 25 years, believes the open primary to select Sir Jim Paice’s successor must be re-run.
When officials counted the votes after the primary in December, they announced the wrong candidate as winner – but that result has been allowed to stand.
Mr Barker said: “The local association has no credibility left at all and many members have already resigned, with more to follow.
“The candidate has no credibility left, either. Tremendous pressure was bought to bear on those of us at the meeting on Friday to vote for the status quo.
“If this was an outside industry you’d be looking at fraud. I am just a farmer but what I do know is the whole thing stinks from top to bottom.”
Barrister Lucy Frazer was declared the winner after December’s vote but when officials from West Suffolk Conservative Association double-checked the votes they found a major error.
Twenty-three votes, wrongly given to Mrs Frazer, should have been handed to the runner-up Heidi Allen, which would have seen her take victory in the safe Conservative Parliamentary seat.
Conservative Central Office ordered an emergency meeting of the association, at which Mr Barker was expecting fresh elections to be called for.
Instead, the party voted, decisively, to opt for Mrs Fraser, knowing she had lost the previous vote.
Mr Barker said: “Heidi Allen is the only one to come out of this mess with any credibility whatsoever.”
He said he was amazed that Mr Paice turned up for Friday’s meeting with Mrs Frazer on his arm and then made a statement calling for the status quo to remain.
“Lucy was even allowed to address the meeting,” he said. “Although she never said anything political – to her credit – she should never have been allowed to speak, never been allowed to attend.”
At the outset, 105 party members applied for the vacancy and this was whittled down to a shortlist of four that included Mrs Frazer, a Cambridge graduate and deputy chairman of the Hampstead and Kilburn Conservatives.
Mr Barker said it should have been obvious there was something wrong during the primary after Mrs Allen polled 62 in the first round, 63 in the second but in the final head-to-head with Mrs Fraser dropped to 48.
It turned out that, out of a pile of 25 votes given to Mrs Frazer, only the top two were for her and the remainder for Mrs Allen.
Mr Barker said: “We should have started again from scratch so that when the candidate is finally chosen it will be the choice of the people.
“What message does this send to people who turned up to the open primary who are not Conservative but were pleased to play a part in selecting a candidate?
“Sure, if we had re-run the election it would have made us a laughing stock for a while but that’s a small price, surely, to be seen as open and honest with the electorate.”
Mr Barker said the leaders of both South and East Cambridgeshire district councils had supported the ballot being re-run.
He said: “Lucy is going to be under a Parliamentary cloud all of her working life. I believe in democracy and integrity and both are out the window.
“Whatever was Lucy doing accepting the nomination? My conscience wouldn’t have allowed me to accept the nomination under these circumstances.”
Mrs Allen has issued a statement but on twitter said: “I am afraid it is back to the drawing board for me. I will need to earn my seat again.
“This time next year, Rodney!”
Mr Barker said: “The association has its victory, but I’m afraid it will turn out to be a pyrrhic victory.”
Peter Cresswell, chairman of SE Cambs Conservative Association, said: “The overwhelming vote for Lucy at our association general meeting means that we can put this difficult situation behind us.
“In Lucy Frazer, we have an extremely capable and talented Parliamentary candidate. Lucy is an ideal person to represent the constituency in Parliament.”
Mrs Frazer said: “I am delighted to have been adopted.”