Barrister Lucy Frazer re confirmed as candidate after voting debacle to select Tory hopeful to replace Sir Jim Paice
PUBLISHED: 00:03 11 January 2014 | UPDATED: 00:47 11 January 2014
London barrister Lucy Frazer was re-confirmed tonight as the Conservatives’ choice as Parliamentary candidate in SE Cambs after a voting mix up left the decision in doubt.
At a heated emergency meeting of the party’s SE Cambs association in Ely, the decision to “re-affirm” Mrs Frazer as their candidate was agreed.
This followed a month of revelations about the open primary which saw Mrs Frazer defeat St Albans district councillor Heidi Allen in the final round of voting at an open primary selection.
However it later transpired –as the information came out slowly but surely- that there were issues with the voting process which turned out to more serious than first thought.
It appears West Suffolk Tories, with experience of such matters, helped to run the open primary for SE Cambs in which all voters, of whatever or no party, were invited to register and attend and vote for their choice.
Of the four shortlisted candidates the two women went head to head in the final vote with Lucy Frazer being confirmed winner by a margin of 84 to 48, a decisive victory. Although this surprised many since it was 12 less votes than Heidi had received in the previous round of voting, the result was declared. Only later did it emerge- after a West Suffolk official who had taken home the ballot papers and checked- was it realised that the announced votes were wrong.
A pile of 25 votes from the final ballot given to Mrs Frazer contained only two votes for her – at the top of the pile- with the rest belonging to Mrs Allen. However the mistake was not spotted.
Had it have been realised those 23 votes, taken from Lucy Frazer and given to Heidi Allen, would have reversed the result.
Sources at tonight’s meeting insist the decision to retain Mrs Frazer as their candidate was to preserve party unity but many are likely to suggest, even at this stage, that the election for candidate is re run.
Conservative Home, an unofficial but generally supportive website, is awash with comments about the debacle.
Wisbech town councillor Steve Tierney wrote: “What a mess! Seems bizarre it could even happen. Every count I’ve ever seen has been scrupulous.”
Another contributor, who says he was at the open primary, suggested “the Prime Minister has got wind of what’s happened” and it not happy.
The contributor wrote: “What an inept shower Central Office is. Unbelievable, unprofessional, unethical – and that’s the best one can say about them!!
“And now it transpires that certain members are not even aware tonight’s meeting is taking place - and they appear to include a long standing member and patron of the association, a county councillor, a district councillor - and, so I hear, an MEP.”
He (or she) added: “The only way to resolve this mess is to re-run the whole procedure again. Yes, it’s a pain, but if certain people from Central Office had done what they are paid to do in the first place, we would not have to do this all again.
“To retain the Conservative principles of democracy, justice, honesty, openness, free and fair elections and integrity there is no option but to start over again.”
How happy or not Mrs Fraser was at the result of tonight’s meeting (she was present for the debate) was not clear.
The BBC’s political commentator Andrew Sinclair was outside Ely College where the meeting was held and tweeted that “Frazer leaves meeting but won’t talk to press. Not a great start.”
However there was support from other quarters including Shona Johnstone, a former Conservative councillor and former county council leader. She tweeted that she was “delighted” that Mrs Frazer had been adopted as candidate.
But Nick Clarke, the man who succeeded her (but lost his seat and post in last May’s elections) had a different perspective.
He blogged yesterday that “in my experience, when something goes wrong, is complex and the result can have a potentially significant impact there is but one solution. Start again and get it right.”
He added, tongue in cheek, that “any relationship to any ongoing problems you may be aware of is purely coincidental.”