Tories accused of purging ‘high quality’ candidates who back Brexit

Rishi Sunak has been accused of purging Brexit-backing Conservative candidates from the party ahead of a general election.

Those on the Tory right believe Downing Street is blocking “true blue” candidates who support low-tax and small-state conservatism from standing in the election so that the party will instead be dominated by centrists.

If the Conservatives were to lose, with Mr Sunak subsequently resigning, the prime minister would still have prevented the party from moving to the right by packing it with One Nation Tories who would not favour right-wing leadership candidates.

Rishi Sunak is accused of favouring centrist candidates (AP)
Rishi Sunak is accused of favouring centrist candidates (AP)

Some Tory MPs have said high-quality applicants for the list of approved parliamentary candidates are being rejected due to their traditional Conservative values, while those who might lack the required skills to be an MP are being put through because they believe in high taxation and public spending.

Applicants described those in charge of the selection process as “yellow Tories”, meaning their preferred candidates are almost indistinguishable from Liberal Democrats. They also told The Telegraph that there is an anti-Brexit bias among interviewers.

The row is representative of the wider ongoing civil war within the Conservative Party. There are those who argue a move to the right is the only way to combat the threat of Reform UK, while others insist occupying the centre ground is the only way to remain electable.

Aman Bhogal, a former diplomat who has not been elected since he contested the Upper Bann seat in Northern Ireland in 2015, claimed the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ), which is in charge of the approved candidates list, was involved in a “stitch-up”, preventing right-wingers from getting onto constituency shortlists.

The row is representative of the wider ongoing civil war within the Conservative Party (PA Archive)
The row is representative of the wider ongoing civil war within the Conservative Party (PA Archive)

Former Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman said he is being blocked from progressing to the long list for any particular seat, after being on the approved list of candidates since 2019 – “because I wasn’t being nice enough about Rishi Sunak”.

He said: “The whole thing is fixed. It’s pretty blatant and undemocratic. The members have woken up to it and are pushing back against it because they are not getting the choice of candidates that they want.

“This is not about me but about the wider system. It is happening to a whole range of good candidates who are left mystified, let down and driven out of the party. It’s all about power and control and a lack of democracy letting the people down.”

Another candidate who claims they have been overlooked said: “Essentially, true blue Conservative candidates are just campaign fodder, people who will shove leaflets through doors – CCHQ has no serious intention of letting them stand in a winnable seat, if at all. They only want candidates who are One Nation Conservatives and it’s no wonder we are getting a low calibre of new MPs coming through.

“When I applied for a seat, the chairman of the local association rang me and said they wanted me to be their candidate, but of course, I was blocked by CCHQ.

“If, like me, you’re pro-Brexit, tough on immigration and want low tax, CCHQ see you as a repulsive headbanger. Too many in the party might as well be Liberal Democrats.”

A CCHQ source said: “These claims have no basis in fact. It’s obviously a bit difficult for candidates who attack the party leader to be selected given they will be asking constituents to cast their votes for him to be prime minister.

“But the idea that people are not being put forward because of some ideological bent is totally false. This is the PM who is cutting taxes, bringing in major immigration curbs, curbing the excessive elements of net zero and trying to get illegal immigrants sent to Rwanda. That’s hardly some Left-wing agenda.”

The Independent has approached Downing Street for comment.