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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 January 2007, 18:04 GMT
Welsh Tories suspend ex-chairman
Sir Eric Howells
Sir Eric Howells is a life president of the Welsh Conservatives
Former Welsh Conservative chairman Sir Eric Howells has been suspended after saying he might back an unofficial Tory candidate in May's assembly election.

He said members from outside had taken over the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire party, and he and others would back an unnamed rival candidate.

The comments were made on last week's BBC Dragon's Eye TV programme.

Sir Eric said the party had not understood what had happened, and warned it would lose a lot of members.

Dozens of people have phoned me to express their sympathy... some of them are going to stand down from the Conservatives now
Sir Eric Howells

He had claimed a group of Conservatives connected to a pro-hunting organisation were responsible for selecting candidate Angela Burns and had taken over the association.

She was chosen after the previous candidate John Jenkins resigned last March over previous comments on homosexuality.

Sir Eric, life president of the Welsh party, claimed the vast majority of local Tory branches wanted a different candidate and if Ms Burns did not stand down "we'll have to support the new candidate".

Sir Eric: "Of course he was only in place for 24 hours and then he was very quickly removed. Then these people came along with their views and felt that they wanted to take over the association."
BBC: "Is there an alternative candidate?"
Sir Eric: "Yes, very much so. Somebody has volunteered to stand as a candidate, one of the reasons because he could see what was happening. When he announces that, hopefully, that this candidate that we have now will stand down and let him have a free run of taking / winning this constituency."
BBC: "And if that doesn't happen? What will you do?"
Sir Eric: "We'll have to support the new candidate, because after all, he's the one that the majority of members want."
Source: Dragon's Eye, BBC Wales, 25 January

But the Tories accused "a tiny isolated minority in the constituency" of fighting their own party, and claimed "members with bruised egos" were undermining efforts to win the seat.

The spokesman denied that any organisation had "taken over" the local association and said there were clear rules preventing it.

Sir Eric Howells told BBC Radio Cymru that he felt sorry for the party, "and still want to do my best for them"

But he said the party had misunderstood what had happened in the constituency."

His membership has been suspended for three months, but Sir Eric said he would not use his right to appeal.

'Awful mess'

He added: "Dozens of people have phoned me to express their sympathy...some of them are going to stand down from the Conservatives now, and the Party is going to lose a lot of loyal supporters".

Sir Eric went on: "What was broadcast on 'Dragon's Eye' did not represent what I said... I said someone could stand against Angela Burns, and if I felt that someone was a stronger candidate than her, then she should step down... and if she did that, then I would vote for the new candidate."

He said a pro-hunting group had "put their own people in to run the party" in the area.

"There's been an awful mess in the party locally since then. They've pushed people out that have worked hard for the Conservatives for years."

BBC Wales said Dragon's Eye had fairly reflected Sir Eric's comments.



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