EXCLUSIVE: the meeting that dented Cameron's campaign
IT began with senior Tories pleading with their party faithful to unite behind their parliamentary candidate Joanne Cash. But despite their efforts, a crisis meeting called by the North Westminster local Conservative association ended with
IT began with senior Tories pleading with their party faithful to unite behind their parliamentary candidate Joanne Cash.
But despite their efforts, a crisis meeting called by the North Westminster local Conservative association ended with the media barrister due to stand for election resigning.
According to reports circulating among its members, the association had recently gone into meltdown after a bitter feud developed between Ms Cash, their chairwoman Amanda Sayers and election agent Jonathan Fraser Howell.
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Ms Sayers and Mr Fraser Howell are said to have made a number of attempts to deselect the 40-year-old - a member of David Cameron's feted female A-list.
Such was the worry about the adverse affect the row could have on the Tories election chances, due to Westminster North's position as a marginal seat, discussions had gone right to the top.
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Tory party chairman Eric Pickles, Boris Johnson's deputy Sir Simon Milton and Lord Strathclyde, leader of the Conservatives in the House of Lords, were among the leading figures who attended the packed meeting on Monday night.
The emergency session had been shrouded in secrecy in the hope of containing the simmering internal row which had sparked the gathering.
But unbeknown to those in attendance, a Wood&Vale reporter was the only member of the press to witness the extraordinary scenes at the Commander pub in Westbourne Grove.
Speaking at the meeting north west area chairman Matthew Carrington said: "This has been fought over by many of us. It's gone as high up as David Cameron.
"What I'm going to say to you is a compromise which has been taken on balance to enable us to win in Westminster North and minimise adverse publicity and believe me this has gone through to Andy Coulson."
Mr Carrington then warned the 50 or so association members at the meeting that if they voted for Ms Sayers as chairwoman for a consecutive fourth year in the secret ballot about to take place, their choice would be rejected by Tory head office.
He added: "There are two issues. One is that of personalities and the other one is the constitutional role. It's only under exceptional rules that chairmen are allowed to go on longer than three years. But there are also deeper problems in the association."
Then it was the turn of Tory party chairman Mr Pickles to wade in on behalf of Ms Cash.
"We are 88 days from a general election," he said. "If we don't win this election [the seat of North Westminster] we don't have a majority. We can't allow our personal actions to affect the greater good of the party. This is a once in a generation election. Look friends this election is not in the bag don't do anything to jeopardise it."
Mr Pickles impassioned speech appeared to quell the obvious discontent and Ms Sayers responded by saying she was withdrawing her motion to extend her term as chairwoman, while urging everyone to support her withdrawal.
But the calm appeared to be shortlived when, after a short break, the association's official annual general meeting commenced.
For Ms Cash it seems that the straw which broke the camel's back was a motion put to elect Ms Sayers as the local association's new president.
Ms Cash, whose husband was a friend of Mr Cameron's at Eton, reacted to the proposal by leaving the room, before returning briefly to inform the association that she would be stepping down as its parliamentary candidate. She then left the meeting completely.
Since then she has gone back on this decision, much to the relief of her colleagues - except perhaps Ms Sayers, who has instead resigned.
For full coverage of how the row in the North Westminster seat plays out and the other constituencies across north London in the run up to the 2010 election, see www.hamhigh.co.uk.