Hammond has backing to win seat as an independent, local Tory veteran says

Former chancellor Philip Hammond would stand a good chance of winning his safe Conservative seat of Runnymede and Weybridge as an independent candidate, a long-standing member of the local Tory party association executive has said.

June Seager said she and others were “astonished” Mr Hammond was stripped of the Conservative whip during a bloodbath which saw 21 rebels – including party grandees Ken Clarke and Sir Nicholas Soames – effectively barred from standing as Tory candidates at the next general election.

Mr Hammond, who served as chancellor for three years until July and was re-selected as the Tory candidate on Monday evening before he voted against Boris Johnson’s government, holds a majority of more than 18,000 in the Surrey constituency, polling a 60.9% share of the vote during the last election.

Magna Carta anniversary
Former foreign secretary Philip Hammond stands before a statue of Queen Elizabeth II in his constituency of Runnymede, Surrey (Neil Lancefield/PA)

It makes it among the safest seats in the country.

But former local association chairwoman and president Mrs Seager, now branch liaison officer, said she expected Mr Hammond’s reputation as a “very good constituency MP”  meant many would back him as an independent rather than a swiftly appointed Conservative candidate.

Mrs Seager, who has known Mr Hammond since he became MP in 1997, told the PA news agency: “We don’t know what is going to happen next, but we re-selected him on Monday night thinking that he would stand for us at the next election. We’re very happy with him.

“I would have thought there was enough support for him (to win as an independent) because he’s been a very good constituency MP in my view.

“He’s honest, transparent, open.”

Mrs Seager, a member of the association for more than three decades, said she was “absolutely horrified” when she heard Mr Hammond had the whip withdrawn over his rebellion to help defeat the Government in seizing control of the Commons agenda during a vote on Tuesday evening.

She said: “I can’t believe the party rules have allowed this to happen. If we want him as our MP, I don’t see how Boris (Johnson) can go against that.

“I’m astonished this could happen, we want him as our MP.

“A handful of people I’ve spoken to this morning have said the same – they’re horrified about this.

“Can he win as an independent? In my mind, the answer is yes.

“Obviously I don’t know whether Philip will stand, whether he will be able to do it as a Conservative or not.

“We have found him a very good constituency MP – he’s been very supportive of all our activities.

“At the (re-selection) meeting most people thought he had done an extraordinarily good job for the country as chancellor and foreign secretary. We are quite proud of him, actually.”

Mr Hammond’s office has been approached for comment.

On Wednesday, former Tory Party chairman Lord Kenneth Baker criticised the treatment of rebel MPs and called on Central Office to allow any who are selected by their local associations – such as Mr Hammond – to stand again as “the only Conservative candidate in the ensuing election”.

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