Tories announce winner of first open primary

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Indy Politics

The Conservatives announced today that Dr Sarah Wollaston has won the first ever open postal vote of an entire constituency to select a parliamentary candidate.

The party said it held the open primary poll for the Totnes seat in Devon to engage with voters in a "direct way" after sitting MP Anthony Steen announced he would stand down at the next election in the wake of the expenses scandal.

Mr Steen said he would go after it was revealed he had spent £87,729 in four years towards the upkeep of his £1 million mansion.

Ballot papers were sent to all 69,000 voters in Totnes and Dr Wollaston won with 7,914 votes.

It is believed to be the first election of its kind held by a British political party.

Dr Wollaston, a married mother-of-three, has worked as a doctor for 23 years.

A Devon GP, she also teaches medical students and junior doctors and has worked as a forensic medical examiner with Devon and Cornwall Police.

During her campaign, the 47-year-old said she was "fiercely opposed to Britain becoming swallowed up by a European super-state".

She defeated the current Mayor of Torbay, Nick Bye, who polled 3,088 votes, and Sara Randall Johnson, the leader of East Devon District Council, who got 5,495.

There were 16,497 votes cast, a turnout of 24.6 per cent.

Dr Wollaston said she knew she had a "big fight on her hands" but pledged to campaign on health issues and to combat alcohol-related problems.

She challenged Prime Minister Gordon Brown to call a General Election and said: "We have a Government that is in bed with the drinks industry.

"We know what will work, we just need the politicians who will do it."

Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles hailed the vote as "a great success for democracy".

He said: "Today's turnout exceeded my wildest expectations and just shows that, if you trust the people, they embrace democracy.

"I hope Totnes represents a new type of politics, which rejects negative campaigning and sees openness as a way to restore confidence in public life.

"I hope, over time, that the primary process becomes a permanent fixture in British politics."

The election is understood to have cost the Conservatives around £40,000 and sources within the party said such a cost would prevent similar elections being held nationally.

Dr Wollaston said she hoped some form of open vote could be rolled out across the country for all prospective parliamentary candidates.

She said: "I would like to think that some sort of open process could be used - it gives whatever candidate is selected an endorsement."

Dr Wollaston said her lack of political experience may have helped her as voters appreciated her "life skills".

She said: "I was surprised by how few people wanted to look back at the expenses scandal. People in this area want to move on."