Why are Tory candidates angry with Richard Holden?

Why are Tory candidates angry with Richard Holden?
Tory aide stops interview after party chairman Richard Holden dodges questions
Sky News

The Conservatives have had quite the mare in recent weeks following the calling of the general election. Rishi Sunak has made a number of humiliating gaffes (the latest being his decision to leave D-Day commemorations early in order to have an interview with ITV), the party had difficulty fielding candidates in every seat before Friday’s deadline, and its chairman Richard Holden has sparked fury over his candidacy in Basildon and Billericay.

Until the dissolving of parliament last month, Holden was the MP for North West Durham, and indeed back in February when quizzed by ITV Tyne Tees over his election plans and whether he plans to contest another constituency on 4 July, he replied: “No, I am bloody loyal to the north east… I care about this constituency; I’ve fought for them every day since 2019.”

And so, imagine the reaction from fellow Conservatives when it was revealed he would be standing in Essex, following a candidate selection process which saw him picked from a shortlist of one in order to guarantee him a seat to contest.

Andrew Baggott, leader of the Tory opposition on Basildon Borough Council, said of the imposition: “We’ve known that the seat needed a candidate since last October.

“CCHQ have fobbed us off for months and even last night [Tuesday] we were told that we would have a group of three candidates to choose from. This morning, everything had changed.

“The imposition of a candidate on the good folk of Basildon/Billericay is absolutely shameful.”

Another party member described it as “a real kick in the teeth to the hundreds of dedicated candidates, not to not to mention the tens of thousands of activists, who are struggling valiantly for the party”.

To make matters worse, when Holden was questioned on his being ‘parachuted’ into the new seat by Sky News’ chief political correspondent Jon Craig, the pooled interview took a turn for the worse when the party chairman decided to deflect and try to talk about comments on schools made by Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry instead.

Craig asked: “How can you justify yourself, chairman of the Conservative Party, being parachuted into a safe seat 300 miles or so from your own constituency, shortlist of one – one, not the normal three or more – just a day or so before nominations close.

“How do you answer the charge [that] it just looks like an appalling stitch-up and you are part of a self-serving elite?”

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

Craig pressed again, pointing out to the Conservative politician that this was a pool interview on behalf of other broadcasters, and they wanted to hear from Holden’s candidacy. The only problem was that the Tory once again tried to gear the discussion towards Thornberry and Labour.

On the third attempt to get Holden to answer the question, which again saw the Tory turn to attacking Labour, the Sky News journalist cut him off and fumed: “I’m going to stop you now, this is ridiculous. This is ridiculous.

“You said in an interview earlier this year you are ‘bloody loyal’ to the north east, what happened to that?”

Holden insisted he had “already answered these questions” during a Channel 4 News interview last week, but Craig still pushed for an answer, to the point that a press officer intervened to complain about the line of questioning.

Oh dear.

Not only that, but when one ITV News journalist emailed the Conservative Party press office about the clip circulating online, a spokesperson gave a “remarkable” response.

“Labour’s Emily Thornberry has now admitted that it’s children who would pay the price of Labour’s decision to tax private schools,” it reads, with the rest of the comment continuing to attack the rival party instead of addressing the matter at hand.

And both social media users and Tory candidates alike have slammed Holden for seeming incapable of answering the question:

While Thornberry herself is yet to comment on the disastrous interview, Labour’s candidate for the Basildon and Billericay seat Alex Harrison issued a statement on Sunday which said: “When asked why he is running in Basildon and Billericay, Richard Holden refused to answer.

“His own party are now abandoning him, with one Conservative MP saying ‘He appears devoid of basic morals and principles and presents an appalling image of our party’, while another candidate called him ‘a disgrace to the Conservative Party’.

“The people of Basildon and Billericay deserve better than a self-serving politician who lives 300 miles away.”

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