A SECRET Conservative report into attempts by local association figures to deselect their North Yorkshire MP has found the situation "spiralled out of control".
Senior Tories in the Thirsk and Malton constituency have fought a long battle with Anne McIntosh to vote her down as the party's candidate in the next election. A ballot of local members will decide the issue on Friday.
Miss McIntosh has fallen out with her local party's executive and particularly chairman Peter Steveney, a retired Army major and former Jockey Club stewards' secretary.
An internal inquiry found the local executive broke the rules by co-opting a large number of new members on to the association's executive board weeks before a vote last year where it was decided not to reselect her for the 2015 general election. The investigation decided the way she was deselected was "fundamentally flawed" and its result should be set aside.
It also criticised Mr Steveney for a letter he sent to members last February, reminding them to make sure they had the "whole story" before they voted, and urging them to contact him for a personal response.
The inquiry panel report said: "This association is troubled by factions. It needs to unite, and personal feelings need to be set aside in the greater interest of the association and the party.
"Everyone was in agreement that the situation in Thirsk and Malton had spiralled out of control and was potentially damaging to the party's standing locally."
Regarding Mr Steveney's letter, the report said: "The interpretation of these words is that Mr Steveney put himself in a position of being the sole and final arbiter of what was the correct version of events which would inform a decision of a member of the association who considered that they did not have the 'whole story'.
"The tone of the language, and the implication that he was somehow the guardian of the truth which his fellow members may not have, also gave the reader the impression that there was 'something going on' and may make the reader doubt that, after all, they had all they needed to make an informed decision."
The confidential report, which was leaked on the internet but has since been removed, said there had been "allegations" about the work of Miss McIntosh, who chairs the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee.
But the report found some association officers "were totally misconceived and appeared to indicate a lack of proper understanding of the role of a Member of Parliament". It added: "By virtue of their onerous parliamentary commitments, MPs are obliged to be in Westminster during the week. In addition, Anne McIntosh chairs a House of Commons select committee.
"There is no evidence to suggest that Anne McIntosh has in any way neglected her duties or failed to discharge her responsibilities on behalf of her constituents."
The panel report, completed last July, refers to the situation with the executive in Thirsk and Malton at the start of 2013, since when the local association has formed a newly-constituted executive. The constituency is safe Tory territory, with the party having a majority of 11,000 in 2010. The Conservative Party said it could not comment on internal party matters
Mr Steveney referred reporters to the national HQ, saying: "I think there has been quite enough said. I'd rather not comment." Miss McIntosh has also yet to comment on the report.
A group of Conservative councillors in Ryedale have backed Miss McIntosh, including Sherburn member John Raper, who said: “It’s regrettable that the actions taken by the executive have been detrimental to the party locally.”
Ryedale District Council leader Linda Cowling said Miss McIntosh had been “a very good MP” and she hoped this would continue. “Allegations that Anne is impossible to work with are just not true and, from my own experience, I find her very good at communicating,” she said.
“If you belong to an association or any other group, you should be prepared to work within the rules of that group, not try to manipulate them to suit your own purposes. If you genuinely feel the rules are incorrect, you should work within that group to change those rules. Many members of our association are very happy with the rules as they stand and the way Conservative Party headquarters have dealt with this problem."
"Hopefully, whatever the outcome on Friday, we can start to look to the future.”
Dales councillor Janet Frank said Miss McIntosh had “worked tirelessly for the constituency” and she believed her treatment had been “underhand”, questioning why some were seeking a new MP for a safe seat. She said: "She shows a great understanding of the problems of rural communities, and her role in Parliament as chair of the rural affairs select committee has been invaluable to the campaign for defences against flooding in Pickering and Malton."