General election: Last-minute dash for seats makes Douglas Ross and Richard Holden look like a self-serving elite | Politics News

In the 1980s, the constituency of Banff and Buchan was represented by Tory MP Albert McQuarrie, known at Westminster as “the Buchan Bulldog”.

Barrel-chested and as tough as Aberdeen granite, when he rose to speak in the Commons the bulldog roared with a booming voice. Ministers took notice.

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Tories, is no bulldog, more like a preening poodle. But the Tories’ treatment of former Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid is worse than dog eat dog.

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After previously saying he’d step down as a Westminster MP to focus on Holyrood, Mr Ross has changed his mind and now plans to stand in the new constituency of Aberdeenshire North and Moray East.

Fancy that. His announcement came just hours after Mr Duguid, a decent man highly regarded by Westminster’s leading Aberdonian Michael Gove, expressed his dismay at being barred from standing for the new seat.

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Mr Duguid, who has been in hospital being treated for an illness affecting his spine but insisted he was on course to make a full recovery, revealed his ruthless de-selection by the party on Wednesday evening.

“Despite my having been adopted by our local members, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party has informed me tonight that they have decided not to put me forward as their chosen candidate,” he protested.

At his hastily arranged news conference announcing his U-turn, Mr Ross was forced to deny that the Scottish Tories had “sacked a man on his sickbed”. But the treatment of Mr Duguid is shoddy, to say the least.

Mr Ross, of course, has form for U-turns. In 2022, he called for Boris Johnson to quit over “partygate”, then withdrew his call, prompting political opponents to claim he had “the backbone of a jellyfish”.

His latest U-turn suggests that while he used to be indecisive, now he’s not so sure.

But Mr Ross is not the only top Tory handed a seat in a last-minute dash in a manner which critics claim is highly unusual and looks like a shabby stitch-up.

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On the same evening that Mr Duguid was dumped, the Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden was foisted on the safe Tory seat of Basildon and Billericay after local Tories were presented with a shortlist of… just one.

Yes, the sole candidate was Mr Holden, the Tory chairman, who claimed in a TV interview earlier this year that he was “bloody loyal to the North-East” – where he served as MP for North-West Durham since 2019.

In fairness to Mr Holden, his seat disappeared in boundary changes and was split into four constituencies. So he had little choice but to look for another seat. But 300 miles away? Until this week he was struggling.

It was the shortlist of one, not the usual three or more, that caused outrage among the normally stoical Essex Tory faithful. And the fact that party HQ imposed Mr Holden just days before the deadline of 4pm on Friday.

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It’s not a good look. And the last-minute easing of Mr Ross and Mr Holden into Conservative-held seats while side-lining local activists makes these two top Tories look like a self-serving elite.

Not only that. In addition, several of Rishi Sunak’s Number 10 aides have bagged themselves safe seats and some Tories who represented vulnerable seats, mostly in the Red Wall, have gone on a chicken run to a safer seat.

It wasn’t always like this. Back in 1992, the then Tory chairman Chris Patten soldiered on in his Bath constituency when he expected to lose, which he duly did in a general election which John Major won against the odds.

Clearly, that wouldn’t happen now. And up in the great division lobby in the sky, the current goings on are likely to be greeted by a great roar of disapproval from what sounds like a snarling bulldog.

The candidates standing in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East are:

• Ian Bailey – Liberal Democrats
• Andy Brown – Labour Party
• Seamus Logan – SNP
• Douglas Ross – Conservative and Unionist Party

The candidates standing in Basildon and Billericay are:

• Christopher Bateman – British Democratic Party
• Stephen Conlay – Reform UK
• Stewart Goshawk – Green Party
• Alex Harrison – Labour Party
• Richard Holden – Conservative and Unionist Party
• Edward Sainsbury – Liberal Democrats


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