Charlie Dewhirst has been selected in Bridlington and the Wolds. This new constituency comprises 79.3 per cent of the existing Yorkshire East constituency, and 10.6 per cent of Beverley and Holderness, according to Electoral Calculus. The implied MP in 2019 was Greg Knight, with a majority of 20, 304. Nonetheless, they do currently predict it to narrowly go to Labour.
Dewhirst is currently Chief Policy Adviser to the National Pig Association. He is currently the Deputy Leader of East Riding Council, and the Vice-Chair of the Conservative Rural Forum. Previously he was a councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham, a parliamentary candidate in Hammersmith in 2015 and 2017, and a researcher for Greg Hands, the Party Chairman.
Intriguingly, Dewhirst was in a final short-list of five. These included two female councillors – Denise Howard, also from East Rising, and Jane MacBean, from Buckinghamshire – and two men. Even more intriguingly, the pair were both MPs: Stuart Andrew, from Pudsey and the Tourism Minister, and Richard Holden, from North West Durham, a Transport Minister, and a former ConHome columnist.
A local source informed ConservativeHome that Dewhirst’s victory was emphatic, winning by at least 80 per cent of the vote on the first ballot. They said Dewhirst’s great virtue was that he was a local, standing in his own constituency. They were “unwilling to take a punt” on an outsider, due to local Lib Dems – which they consider the primary threat – aiming to run a hyper-local campaign.
In a sense, this is unsurprising. It is simply a piece with the current trend – first highlighted by ConservativeHome, and then taken up elsewhere – of constituencies to pick so-called “local champions”. As public expectations of MPs increasingly lean towards their being super-councillors – and as disillusionment with SW1 grows – the appeal of local campaigners becomes more apparent.
But this hasn’t always been the case. Knight, for example, represented Derby North between 1983 and 1997, before moving to East Yorkshire in 2001. As an ex-minister, local sources suggest he had a particular clout. That party members might prioritise local ties over parliamentary experience is striking – especially as Andrew and Holden are hardly alone as MPs looking for new seats.
The pair are hardly the only sitting MPs to lose out. In recent weeks, both Andy Carter in North West Leicestershire and Kieran Mullan in Chester South and Eddisbury have lost out having made the short-lists. Jamie Wallis has struggled to make it that far. Only Stuart Anderson and Eddie Hughes have so far successfully swapped seats – and the latter lost out due to the Tamworth by-election.
This will be an ominous sign for any MP currently staring at a small majority and hoping to find sanctuary elsewhere. Anderson, along with Nicola Richards and the currently-suspended Scott Benton, was one of those MPs declared “displaced” by CCHQ in order to run elsewhere. It paid off for Anderson in South Shropshire. But he seems the exception, not the rule.
As Knight has proved, there is a value in MPs who have stood down or lost in previous constituencies being given the opportunity to stand elsewhere. Obviously, it is down to individual seats to judge candidates on their own merits. Dewhirst seems an excellent campaigner – he has his ex-boss’s seal of approval, at least – and ConservativeHome wishes him all the best.
But as the turnover rate of MPs speeds up, one fears that a Commons already so often denuded of experience is only going to become more so, in favour of the same local councillor trend of which this site has so often warned.