LONDON heavyweights Chris Philp and Ed Argar are among the final four on the shortlist in the Tory search for a candidate in Tonbridge and Malling, where Sir John Stanley is stepping down at the next election. There’s an 18,000 blue majority over there in Kent, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Chris would rather stand there, than in Hampstead and Kilburn again. Glenda Jackson, he hears and reads every time his name is mentioned, beat him by only 42 votes in H&K last time out. A run in Kent will be a cruise compared to that street fight. It is the definition of a ‘plum seat’.
His polished website has indicated a push was coming, that he was preparing for another run at Parliament, albeit in a less demanding constituency. Local Tories, by the way, have laughed that one of the front page pictures on Chris’s website is of him with Ed Fordham, the third placed Lib Dem in H&K, at his knees as they plant a tree together. Not sure Ed will see the funny side of that, the way the picture is presented, his delighted grin at a community project, almost looks like he endorses his old Tory rival.
Perhaps the hardest task for Chris (pictured at the top with Don Williams on the night he won a council election in Gospel Oak) will be the open primary on Saturday night, the process where all residents in the constituency vote on who the Conservative candidate should be. It is more competitive than when he won the ticket in Hampstead through the same process, because the safeness of the seat means whoever wins the open primary is essentially winning a seat in the Commons there and then.
Ed Argar will not, for example, be easy to nudge past. The councillor was not so long ago the bookies favourite to become leader of Westminster City Council. Ladbrokes posted him at evens in the run-up to a vote in which Philippa Roe eventually emerged as the new boss.
From afar, it looks like the local association in Tonbridge is taking the task (it’s been 40 years since they had to pick a candidate) seriously. A whole blog is devoted to ‘TMSelects’, where you will see a cast of beautiful voters across the top banner wearing slinky vests and Colgate smiles. All of them are no doubt registered to attend on Saturday.
You can also see the written pleas for votes from the candidates there too, including those from Chris and Ed’s other rivals Vicky Atkins and Thomas Tugendhat. For his piece, Chris describes himself as ‘The Kent Candidate’, telling would-be supporters: “I have deep roots in Kent. My father was, for 40 yeas, the Director of the Kent Archaelogical Rescue Unit and I spent school holidays helping on his excavations around the corner.” Of course in 2010, he was billed as the local candidate for Hampstead, in contrast to Glenda, who almost stubbornly refused to move north of the river from her place in Blackheath in the face of loud moans about her never being seen in her constituency.
Aw well, it’s not really for us up here to assess how they will vote over there, but Mark Wallace’s analysis on Con Home might help: “Each candidate has their own strengths and political experience, and there is no one individual who leaps out as a hyperlocal candidate – a factor which has swung such selections in the past.”
One to keep an eye on this weekend.