The shiny new Tory Party looks a little less shiny this morning, after its Bromley members last night rejected two high-fliers from David Cameron's A-List as their Parliamentary by-election candidate in favour of a middle-aged white male Freemason from Tower Hamlets who seems to represent everything the Tories are supposed to be moving away from.
Cameron did say local associations were free to select local candidates over the A-List, but Neill's local connection (he represents Bexley & Bromley on the Greater London Assembly) is tenuous at best – no stronger than Robert Evans had in Brent East as the area's European Parliamentarian, and that did him no good at all. In fact, it's likely to become a liability for Neill as he's apparently told the Bromley Tories that if he wins the by-election he will stay as GLA member until the next elections in 2008 – drawing both salaries.
The news of his selection has already draw some press criticism and has some – not all – Tories clutching their heads at the own goal. Politics.co.uk writes: “Conservative activists have rejected leader David Cameron's latest attempt to modernise the party by trying to get more women and ethnic minorities elected to parliament”, the Indy (unsurprisingly, as it is far from pro-Tory) adds “last night, the Conservative Party put a brave face on the choice and denied that it was a snub,” the far more sympathetic Times says “the attempt by David Cameron, the Conservative leader, to get more women and ethnic minorities onto the Tory benches in the Commons failed its first test last night,” and the Telegraph reports it as the “first snub for Cameron's 'beautiful' A-list” – along with a photo of the candidate that has to be seen to be believed.
Among bloggers Guido Fawkes, broadly Tory but always up for a chance to cause mischief, writes: “So Cameron's Conservatives in Bromley and Chislehurst have chosen Bob Neill, a pin-striped, old, grey-haired, male barrister to fight the by-election. Back to the drawing board for the A-list, which hasn't worked out too brilliantly this time… UPDATE : He doesn't actually live locally and he is an opera loving Freemason (Greater London Lodge). Isn't it all just so retro 1950s?”
Comments vary on Conservative Home, where a certain sort of Tory activist likes to go and play, and many of the more hostile ones are unlikely to be from Tories. However, two of the more plausibly genuine ones say:
Sad day for the party. Our party is unrepresentative of the country we seek to govern. This is why we need the A-List to change the face of the Conservative Party. And what happens? The first test and the local association fails the party by not choosing from the A-List and electing yet another old white man. Those who wish our party ill will be delighted by this result – Gordon will be smiling…
Until Conservatives from top to bottom start showing some loyalty to our leader David Cameron's attempt to get the party back into power will be like running a marathon with one leg!
Of course, most of the site is rallying behind its party's candidate – but the graphic it heads the post with unwitting says everything that needs to be said. It's certainly not what its designer meant but, without intending to, it sums up perfectly the problem with the Tories once you skim the Cameroonies off the surface:
The Conservative Party – no women or darkies need apply.