Inside report - Who called time on Horsham councillors as Conservative representatives?

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On Saturday, two district councillors were not adopted by the Horsham Conservative Association.

Jim Rae and Helena Croft can no longer contest their Holbrook East and Roffey North seats as Conservatives in May.

They can continue as councillors until those elections and they are free to stand again as independents or under a different party badge should they so wish.

Helena Croft has given no indication that she would choose to do so but Jim Rae has said he plans instead to contest the parliamentary seat as an independent. If he were successful he would replace Francis Maude as Horsham’s next MP.

So who called time on them as Conservative representatives?

The Horsham Conservative Association comprises ordinary Horsham residents who have joined the party and they have the right to select whoever they believe would best represent their party’s values.

Often, there is a shortage of potential candidates which means that, within reason, those seeking to stand do so unopposed.

But on Saturday both Mr Rae and Mrs Croft faced an internal election because there were more people willing to be councillors for their wards than there were seats available.

Growing dissatisfaction among local party members about the way the North Horsham development plans were forced through as well as a lack of consultation on issues affecting the town, signalled that there was likely to be more interest this time round - and there could be political casualties amongst sitting councillors.

According to an official association spokesperson, in advance of the vote Mr Rae and Mrs Croft made various complaints to the National Party Board of the Conservative Party about process and procedure regarding local government candidate selection.

The Conservative Board ordered an investigation into the running of the association to see if the complaints were justified and while this was carried out, the Horsham Conservative Association had its powers to choose new candidates suspended.

There then followed an intense inquiry conducted at The Capitol theatre.

Last week, the Conservative Board rejected all complaints against the local association which finally left members free to vote on who they wanted to represent their local party on their behalf in May.

The result was overwhelming.

They wanted a change.

And on Saturday they voted for one.

Of the several dozen members who voted, only a couple supported Jim Rae and a mere six the deputy leader of HDC Helena Croft.

The Conservative Party has always believed in local decision making, openly made.

The North Horsham planning process has not lived up to that ideal.

Nor have many of the other recent modifications to the town centre.

But the removal of Croft and Rae - whatever their individual merits - is living proof that democracy in Horsham is not entirely dead yet.

Their deselection was not a case of national interference by a party - but of the Conservatives trusting their local residents to choose the candidates they wanted.

See also County Times comment - Courage and change