Constituency chairman vows choice of new Tory candidate for Hertford and Stortford seat will be local decision
The chairman of the Hertford and Stortford Conservative Association expects there to be fierce competition to be selected as Mark Prisk's successor following his announcement on Monday that after 18 years as MP he will not be standing at the next General Election.
While the process will be open to hopefuls across the country who have already been approved by central office, Alexander Curtis was adamant there would be local contenders and that the final decision for the plum safe seat would be taken by local association members, not gifted as a reward for party loyalty by 10 Downing Street.
The Hertford and Stortford Labour Party has voiced its concern that the constituency's Conservative association will appoint a hard-right Johnson no-deal loyalist to contest the seat.
Something of a political prodigy himself, Mr Curtis, a 22-year-old Oxford University student who was elected to Ware Town Council in 2017 and is one of the youngest mayors in the country ever, has ruled himself out of the running.
He said: "I expect we will have many hundreds of applications. It's a seat that will be in demand.
"I expect there will be a mixture of local names, including former and current councillors, but also names from elsewhere."
He said that a long list would be created in consultation with party head office, with around 10 people undergoing interviews before a secret ballot to select the short-listed applicants. They will then present their cases for selection to the association and the victor will be picked by a one-member, one-vote process.
"What we are looking for is someone who is going to work hard for our association and the constituency," said Mr Curtis.
With a rock-solid majority, the new name could reasonably expect to become Hertford and Stortford's next MP and Mr Curtis said: "I think that we probably want someone who is going to be making an impact in Parliament and put our constituency on the map. That's a priority."
Former Bishop's Stortford High School student Andrew Lewin stood against Mark Prisk in the 2010 General Election, polling 26% of the vote and edging the Liberal Democrats into second place, ahead of Labour, for the first and only time since 1992.
Mr Lewin defected to Labour soon after his defeat and now runs the Remain Labour pressure group, lobbying against leaving the European Union.
He said on Twitter: "I grew up in Hertford & Stortford and stood against Mark Prisk at the (ridiculously) young age of 23. IF there is a single #RemainAlliance backed candidate at the next election, it might just be possible to break the Conservative grip on the seat."
The Hertford and Stortford seat was first contested at the 1983 General Election. In its 36-year history it has been represented by just two men, Conservatives Bowen Wells and then Mr Prisk, each for 18 years.