Politics

Tory chairman dodges questions about being ‘parachuted into safe seat’

The Tory party chairman has refused to answer questions about his selection controversy after he was chosen to stand in a “safe seat” 300 miles away from his former constituency.

Richard Holden was chosen to be the Conservatives’ parliamentary candidate in Basildon and Billericay in Essex last week, after being the only candidate on the list.

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The choice sparked a furore among local Tories as before the election was called he was the MP for North West Durham – an area hundreds of miles away, which he claimed to be “bloody loyal” to.

Basildon and Billericay is seen as a “safe seat” with its former MP John Baron, who has stood down for the election, winning a majority of more than 20,000 in 2019.

Mr Holden refused to engage with questions about the row when speaking to broadcasters on Sunday.

Asked multiple times how he could justify being “parachuted into a safe seat” with a candidate of just one, he went on a tangent about Labour’s policy to tax private school fees, and comments made by shadow minister Emily Thornberry.

Richard Holden

He said: “This interview is about Emily Thornberry’s comments today when she admitted that it is going to be our children across the country paying the price for Labour’s decision to try and tax private schools if they get into office.”

Mr Holden was referring to Ms Thornberry saying that class sizes in state schools may increase as a result of Labour adding VAT to private school fees, which could see some pupils leave the independent sector.

He said: “That I think is a horrendous price to pay… for Labour’s ideological obsession.”

Asked to deny if he was part of a “stich-up” with his seat selection, Mr Holden again pointed to Ms Thornberry’s comments.

Asked why he said in February he was “bloody loyal” to the North East – where he has been an MP since 2019 – he claimed he has answered questions about the selection row on Channel 4.

It was put to him that C4 is one broadcaster and he was taking part in a pool clip – which sees broadcasters share their footage – but Mr Holden would still not be drawn in on the matter.

Holden ‘a disgrace to the Conservative Party’

His refusal to answer the questions drew a fierce condemnation from one Tory candidate, who told Sky’s deputy political editor Sam Coates he is a “disgrace to the Conservative Party”.

They added: “He’s put himself over candidates. He’s shown complete disdain for party members. The only reason this fool won’t be associated with this disastrous election is because nobody believes anyone thinks he competent, capable or trusted enough to be involved in the day-to-day decision making of this campaign.

“It’s a running joke amongst candidates that they hope it’s a Labour gain in Basildon and Billericay.”

Former defence secretary Sir Liam Fox gave a more muted criticism, telling Sky News: “I think when politicians stop answering questions directly, the public stop listening.”


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PM ‘out on road over next few days’

Mr Holden also faced questions about Rishi Sunak, who has been accused of avoiding the media as the row over his early exit from an international D-Day event continues.

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Sunak avoids D-Day questions

Asked if he is hiding, Mr Holden said: “The prime minister will be out on the road, I’m sure, over the next few days, fighting for every vote right across the country.”

Mr Sunak has been campaigning in Yorkshire without the usual media pack today after facing accusations of “dodging” reporters’ questions on Saturday as the row over his D-Day snub rumbles on.

The prime minister was forced to apologise on Friday for skipping an international ceremony attended by world leaders including US President Joe Biden to mark the 80th anniversary of the allied landings.

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But backlash has continued to pile in from rivals, veterans and some within his own party, with Conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie branding the early departure “the biggest gaffe I can remember in politics”.

The continued criticism, which comes amid a 20-point poll deficit, has even fuelled speculation Mr Sunak could resign before polling day – something cabinet minister Mel Stride was forced to shut down on Sunday.

He told Sky News Mr Sunak will “absolutely” lead the party into the election.

“There should be no question of anything other than that,” he said.

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