A BITTER row over the future of an embattled Yorkshire MP is approaching its climax as ballot papers are sent out this morning asking her local party to decide whether she must stand down at the next general election.
More than 500 voting forms will be posted to members of the Thirsk and Malton Conservative Association today to decide the future of local MP Anne McIntosh, who is facing de-selection by her local party executive following a series of angry disputes.
Local party leaders say they find it impossible to work with Miss McIntosh, and want to choose a new candidate for the 2015 general election. Her supporters say she is a tireless Parliamentary campaigner on behalf of rural areas, and insist she has done nothing to merit the long-running whispering campaign against her.
In a letter to the Yorkshire Post today, two prominent rural businessmen warn of the “poisonous” atmosphere splitting the Conservative association in Thirsk and Malton - one of the safest Tory seats in the country - in two.
George Winn-Darley, owner of the 7,000 acre Spaunton Moor estate and the Moorland Association’s representative for the North York Moors; and Victor Buchanan, owner of the 16th century coaching inn the White Swan in Pickering, say Miss McIntosh has shown “poor judgement” in dealings with local activists and the area “deserves a better MP”.
“We believe it is untenable to have an MP who cannot work with her local party,” their joint letter states. “Opinion may differ as to Miss McIntosh’s record as a politician, but no one can deny these divisions have gone on far too long.”
The row has been ongoing for several years, and marks the second time Miss McIntosh has faced de-selection since she became a North Yorkshire MP in 1997.
“Successive committees have fallen out with her.” the two men write. “The pattern repeated itself... With regret, we say that this poisonous situation cannot be allowed to continue.”
A letter from another disgruntled member accuses the MP of a “deliberate failure to communicate” with the local association.
The 550 local members must return their verdicts by January 31, when Miss McIntosh’s future will be decided. If de-selected, she will continue as an MP until May 2015, but must then step aside.
But if she wins a majority this month, she will be re-selected as the local Tory candidate for 2015.
In the meantime Miss McIntosh remains one of Parliament’s most active backbench MPs, chairing the Commons environment committee and campaigning on behalf of rural communities and flood-hit towns and villages.
She received unlikely support this week from Labour MP John McDonnell, who noted her “local difficulty” and said she would be “a loss to the House if she were not returned at the next election”.
Miss McIntosh reiterated her credentials as a countryside campaigner in the Commons yesterday, leading a backbench debate on rural communities in which she warned first-time buyers are finding themselves “frozen out” of rural areas by high house prices.
“If we do not address these problems it will have grave consequences for rural communities,” she said. “If young people are priced out of rural areas, we lose that pool of labour for the local economy and the service sector.”
She said the issue was exacerbated by homeowners in ‘nice areas’ objecting to social housing.
“Every time in a nice area when there is a proposal for social housing people always write to their MP and say, ‘I know just the place for that development - at the other end of the village’,” she said.
“Until we get over that barrier we are going to have a smaller stock of social homes.”