Tories announce winner of first open primary

Author: By Tom Palmer, PA

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%.

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.”

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