TWO Christchurch Tories who have publicly attacked controversial local MP Sir Chris Chope have won powerful positions in the local party with a promise to shift away from the “blue rinse brigade”.
Their elections come as Sir Chris is facing pressure as the party candidate after a series of controversial votes in which he has hindered popular legislation – most recently including a new law to better protect girls at risk of female genital mutilation.
At the association’s AGM on Saturday, Cllr Lisle Smith (46) was named chair of the Christchurch and East Dorset Conservative Association, with 22-year-old Rhys Gadsby becoming the political deputy chair.
There was no contest for Cllr Smith after her only rival withdrew his candidacy. The previous chair, Cllr Ray Bryan, did not stand.
Asked if she would support Sir Chris as the party’s candidate going into the next general election, Cllr Smith declined to give the pro-Brexit politician her direct backing. She said it was down to members to make a decision through the selection process.
She told the A&T: “The face of local politics is changing and we, the local Conservatives, need to start changing with it.
“At every meeting I have attended in recent times it has been brought up – where are the younger members? The classic image of a Conservative in this area is ‘the blue rinse brigade’.
“We are looking to welcome younger members, they are the ones that are tech savvy, social media savvy. To do this we need to change the perception of the image of local Conservatives. It’s less about coffee mornings and raffles now and more about politics and a pint.
“Our older members are extremely valuable to us. Their experience, knowledge and organisational skills must and should be passed on to the next generation of campaigners – but to do that we need to find the next generation.
“With the help of my deputy chairman political, Rhys Gadsby, we plan to run a younger committee backed by the experience of the older members, which will enable us to continue doing what we do: raising funds, winning elections and having some fun along the way.”
A former Remain voter, she said of Brexit: “I now believe that we need to come to a decision regardless of what that decision is.
“On a local level we are spending a lot of time having to defend Brexit when it should be about potholes and dog poo.”
Cllr Smith was among 10 local Tories who put their name to a statement on Twitter after Sir Chris’s objection to stronger FGM laws in the House of Commons, savaging the 71-year-old as a member of the “misogynistic old guard”.
Mr Gadsby has spoken out more recently to criticise hard Brexiter Sir Chris after the MP openly considered siding with Labour in any future no-confidence vote against the government.
Infighting in the local party has led to about half a dozen of its councillors being suspended by Tory HQ for saying they would stand as Independents in the 2nd May local elections.
They are protesting at the government agreeing Christchurch’s merger into a money-saving single council with Bournemouth and Poole – which has also been vehemently opposed by Sir Chris.
The union officially went ahead on Monday to form the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council. The local elections will decide its members.
Cllr Smith is an artist who has represented the former borough council’s Portfield ward since 2011.
Sir Chris, who has a majority of nearly 25,200 in Christchurch, was first elected as the local MP in 1997.