The three finalists will face the association’s collected members at a selection meeting on Friday in the hope of being chosen to succeed Laura Sandys MP.
- Cllr Tony Devenish. A former European and General Election candidate (he stood in the Labour stronghold of Houghton and Washington East in 2001 and 2005), Devenish is a Councillor in Westminster. He has enjoyed a varied career in consultancy and has written a number of times for ConHome in recent years.
- Cllr Anna Firth. A barrister by profession, Cllr Firth is also a District Councillor in Sevenoaks and a family campaigner. Last year she was a runner-up in the Lewes selection.
- Cllr Craig Mackinlay. Cllr Mackinlay is a Chartered Accountant, and stood in 2012 as the Conservative candidate to be Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner – an election in which he was sadly defeated. A Medway District Councillor, he also has the unusual distinction of being a former leader of UKIP – he led the party briefly in 1997, then served as its Deputy Leader from 1997-2000, before leaving to join the Conservatives in 2005.
The seat is widely touted as a Nigel Farage’s potential target in next year’s General Election, so the association will no doubt be looking for a fighting candidate, not someone who might take the 2010 majority of 7,617 votes for granted. It’s no coincidence, therefore, that all three finalists are experienced councillors. Lord Ashcroft’s poll of marginal seats found the reported voting intention was Conservative 32 per cent, Labour 31 per cent, UKIP 27 per cent and Lib Dem 7 per cent, so whoever is selected will have to pitch straight in to the street fighting.