Local party faces Hague's wrath over expulsion of women candidates

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The Independent Online
A north London Conservative association is being investigated after the shock expulsion of two of the party's women parliamentary candidates. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, reports on a case that will give William Hague the chance to flex his muscles.

Senior Tory sources expect tough retaliatory action to be taken against Hendon Conservative Association this week, following the recent expulsion of Jane Ellison and Sheila Scott, two of the rare breed of women who fought as Conservative candidates in the last election.

The women have been told they were expelled under rule 17(i), which gives the local party's executive council power to "strike off the membership roll any member whose declared opinions or conduct shall in its judgment be inconsistent with the objectives of the association."

The Hendon and Finchley Times newspaper has already reported a highly contentious - and defamatory - allegation made during the executive council proceedings.

But the Conservative leadership is expected to view that as part of a running battle within the local party - which has already resulted in the departure of the agent, the association secretary, and the Young Conservative chairman.

Mrs Scott, who contested Stoke on Trent South at the last election, told The Independent: "I refute absolutely the allegations made against me." A former chairman of the Hendon Association, she is chief executive of the National Care Homes Association and a local councillor.

Ms Ellison, customer communications manager with the John Lewis Partnership, was the Tory candidate in last year's Barnsley East by-election, and fought Barnsley East and Mexborough in the last election.

A Conservative Party spokesman said: "Members locally have raised complaints about the conduct and running of the association."

The investigation is being carried out by the Conservative National Union, which represents the party's voluntary wing - one of the elements Mr Hague wants to bring under more central control so that he can exert tougher, Blair-style discipline in cases where the party risks being brought into disrepute.

If tough action is taken against Hendon, however, the national party could have a fight on its hands.

George Ward, the association chairman and managing director of Bonusprint, the high street photographic developers, was the owner of Grunwick Processing Laboratories, the north London photographic processing firm that became the focal point of protest over trade union rights in 1976.

Striking members of the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff were sacked by Grunwick and the subsequent dispute made strong headlines because of angry picket lines joined by other trades unions and Labour MPs - including such moderate figures as Shirley Williams.

Mr Ward won his case in the courts, with a House of Lords judgment in his favour, and it is believed that the Grunwick dispute was one of the factors that influenced the Conservative anti-union legislation of the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher, herself a north London MP.

Mr Ward was out of the country and unavailable for comment when The Independent called Bonusprint on Friday.