Gay Conservative triumphs in bitter deselection vote

The gay Conservative parliamentary candidate Ashley Crossley appeared jubilant last night after an "overwhelming majority'' voted against his deselection in a dispute tainted by allegations of homophobia.

The gay Conservative parliamentary candidate Ashley Crossley appeared jubilant last night after an "overwhelming majority'' voted against his deselection in a dispute tainted by allegations of homophobia.

Mr Crossley made a robust five-minute speech in front of 265 members of the Falmouth and Camborne Conservative Association to fight for the candidacy he won unanimously in November 2003.

After the result of the secret ballot was announced, he spoke briefly about the "difficult weeks'' leading up to the vote and thanked the party leader, Michael Howard, and the party chairman, Liam Fox, for their support. He expressed more bitterness towards his opponents, including John Ager, who proposed the motion for deselection, and the 66 party members who signed a petition calling for his deselection.

Mr Crossley said: "I would like to thank everyone who voted for me. Now that the deselection is over, we can move on and continue a very successful campaign highlighting the positive policies that the Conservative Party can bring.''

But few would argue the claim of homophobia and vicious infighting could be a vote-puller for the local Conservatives. His opponents were in no mood to display a unified spirit after the two-hour meeting at a hotel in the Cornish port of Falmouth.

Mike Varney, a local councillor and a suspended executive member of the party, said: "I genuinely believe he is not the man for the job. He might be nice to the people out in the streets, but he is difficult to work with. And why should Mr Howard get involved? I don't feel I can put this behind me for the sake of party unity."

Mr Varney was one of eight executive members suspended in July after members of the management team promoted UKIP and failed to censure an alleged homophobic remark during an meeting at which Mr Varney jokingly referred to Mr Crossley's boyfriends. But last night he defended the "light-hearted" nature of his remark and denied it was homophobic."

Mr Crossley was considered one of the party's brightest prospects when at 31 he was selected to stand for the key marginal seat in Cornwall.

An Oxford-educated barrister, he embodies the Conservative ideal, and as a gay man with a partner of 13 years, represented the "inclusive" face of the party that Mr Howard has been keen to promote.

There are suggestions the dispute began over Mr Crossley's decision to support Conservative Central Office over the suspension of the eight executive members for showing an anti-Europe video used by UKIP. But opponents said they merely lost confidence in him and some were even aggrieved he had not declared his homosexuality.

Mr Crossley has said he has never attempted to hide his sexuality and that as a Truro-born candidate, his background was well-known and accepted.

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