A SECRET Conservative Party report has revealed serious allegations of dirty tricks and subterfuge within a North Yorkshire Conservative association as local party bosses try to force out the region’s only female Tory MP.
The Yorkshire Post can reveal Conservative Party chairman Lord Feldman ordered an internal inquiry into allegations of wrongdoing at the Thirsk and Malton Conservative Association, whose leadership is involved in a long-running de-selection battle with the sitting MP, Anne McIntosh.
The inquiry’s findings, suppressed by the party but published today for the first time, conclude that local Tory leaders broke party rules by co-opting a large number of new appointees onto the Thirsk and Malton association’s executive board, shortly before a crunch meeting last year where it voted not to re-select Miss McIntosh as Tory candidate for the 2015 general election.
Supporters of Miss McIntosh privately described the affair as “our very own Falkirk” – a reference to the vote-rigging row which tore the Labour Party apart last year as it sought a new candidate for a safe seat in Scotland.
While there is no suggestion of any criminal activity, the report is heavily critical of the Thirsk and Malton association and its chairman, retired Army Major and racehorse owner Peter Steveney – a fierce opponent of Miss McIntosh. Mr Steveney and his associates were hauled in to Conservative Party headquarters for heated discussions in the wake of its findings. Their de-selection vote was judged “fundamentally flawed”.
“The association wrongly sought to re-configure the composition of its executive council in the manner it did,” the inquiry found in July 2013. “The constitution of the party makes no provision for such arrangements, or empowers an association to do so.”
The report found the newly-appointed members of the executive “were clearly co-options by any other name”.
It said the rules broken were specifically designed “to prevent an unrepresentative takeover of an executive council”.
It also criticised a letter Mr Steveney subsequently wrote to party members as “unhelpful and detrimental to Miss McIntosh’s position, and unfair to her”.
Mr Steveney rebuts the report’s findings, however, describing them as “totally one-sided”. He insists he acted within party rules and has demanded an apology from Lord Feldman.
Thirsk and Malton remains a true-blue Conservative heartland and one of England’s most rural seats, with a Tory majority of more than 11,000.
The bitter dispute lays bare once more the disconnect between Conservative Party headquarters and its grassroots associations, as David Cameron’s attempts to modernise the party continue. Last May, just three weeks after ordering the inquiry into Thirsk and Malton, Lord Feldman – a tennis partner of Mr Cameron – was forced to publicly deny describing Tory associations as “all mad, swivel-eyed loons”.
Tory members given access to the secret report were warned any breach of confidentiality would lead to disciplinary action, and possible expulsion from the party.
However, the Yorkshire Post was able to download a copy from the website of an award-winning bed-and-breakfast in the North York Moors. Its owner, a prominent local Conservative and supporter of Miss McIntosh, removed the document yesterday afternoon.
“In the wider interests of the Conservative Party we decided not to take issue with the report at the time, but to get on and follow its recommendations,” Mr Steveney said last night.
“But I thought the report was a travesty. We wrote to the party asking for an apology in July, and They still have not replied.
“And that, I’m afraid, is absolutely typical of the way they ignore the voluntary party.”
The initial de-selection vote has now been declared null and void, and a ballot of local party members called instead, with a decision due on Friday. If Miss McIntosh is forced out, David Cameron will lose one of just three female Tory MPs covering the whole of the North of England.
Mr Cameron wants to increase the number of women Tory MPs from its current 16 per cent level – half that of Labour’s – but has been frustrated by the reluctance of local associations to select women candidates. Furthermore, four of his 2010 intake of female MPs have either resigned or announced they will not stand again.
Miss McIntosh’s supporters claim elements of her local association “never wanted” a female MP – part of the reason for the long-running whispering campaign against her. This is hotly denied by her opponents, who accuse her of being “impossible” to work with.
But in unguarded comments, one senior local party figure referred to the MP as “a silly little girl” and made clear the sort of candidate he would prefer.
“Let’s have an open selection and see who else would like to be MP,” he said. “We might get Boris (Johnson) – that would be rather fun, wouldn’t it? Or Nigel Farage?”
A more likely candidate than the Ukip leader could be Edward Legard, a local judge and Ryedale councillor. A Tory candidate in 2010, Coun Legard is on the party’s national list again – but has yet to declare which seat he will fight.
Earlier this month he was forced to deny his involvement in a letter-writing campaign against Miss McIntosh after his name appeared ‘by accident’ on an email sent to local newspapers.
The letter, signed by two prominent local Conservative businessmen, warned of the “poisonous” atmosphere within Thirsk and Malton Conservatives, and called on Miss McIntosh to be replaced.
Mr Legard could not be reached for comment last night.
Miss McIntosh also declined to comment, stating she would not “provide a running commentary”.
The Conservative Party said it would not comment on a leaked report.
• Today the Yorkshire Post publishes in full for the first time the internal Conservative Party report into Thirsk & Malton Conservative Association, and its attempts to oust sitting MP Anne McIntosh. Read the full report here