Suffolk could get first woman MP

SUFFOLK could have its first woman MP after Conservatives chose a female candidate to contest the Suffolk Coastal constituency in the General Election.

Graham Dines

SUFFOLK could have its first woman MP after Conservatives chose a female candidate to contest the Suffolk Coastal constituency in the General Election.

Therese Coffey, a BBC property finance manager who lives in Hampshire, was given a standing ovation from 400 Tory party members after she won the nomination by a landslide on the first ballot.

If she is elected to succeed John Gummer, she will be the first woman in the county's history to make it to Westminster. All three major parties have stubbornly refused to choose women as a candidate in a winnable seat.

The decision to select her also came as a new report suggests the proportion of female Tory MPs could more than double if David Cameron's party wins the general election.

At the selection meeting held at Trinity Park on Saturday afternoon, Ms Coffey defeated five other nominees - three men and two women - to capture the prize of taking over one of the safest Conservative seats in Britain.

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After the result was announced, Ms Coffey she was “overwhelmed” by the size of her victory. “I couldn't believe how many put their faith in me to take over from Mr Gummer.

”I am thrilled to have been chosen by the great people of Suffolk Coastal Conservatives. There are many issues to tackle here and I have a lot to learn from John Gummer but the critical thing is to win the general election three months' from today.

“Tonight I'll be celebrating but tomorrow I'll be starting work for the people of Suffolk Coastal - and I will be moving into the constituency by Valentine's Day.”

She added: “I am not a Westminster insider. I have had a real life in business and I will use my experience on behalf of the people of Suffolk Coastal.”

Ms Coffey was born in Wigan and at one time was finance director of Mars Drinks. She is a member of the Countryside Alliance, plays tennis and goes horseracing, and is a supporter of the charity Water Aid.

Constituency chairman Jimmy Butler said: “I'm absolutely delighted. With all the uproar over MPs' expenses, I worried whether good potential candidates might think it was not worthwhile putting their names forward for selection.

“Party members were anxious to consider local names alongside outsiders, and we gave them two Suffolk based people and one with connections in the county as well as three national candidates from which to make a choice.

“This meeting took Therese to their hearts. She gave a brilliant speech, was humorous with some of her answers to the questions from members, and showed that she will be a huge asset, not just for Suffolk Coastal, but also the parliamentary Conservative Party. “

Jonathan Isaby, the co-editor of the ConservativeHome website for Tory activists, who chaired the selection meeting said: “In my experience, it is unheard of for a candidate on a six-person shortlist to win on the first ballot. She put in a superb performance.”

Sir George Young, Shadow leader of the House of Commons and MP for Hampshire North West, wrote on the ConservativeHome web pages: “Therese was my association chairman for three years and did a fantastic job. I am delighted she has got a seat and look forward to her reinforcing our green benches after the election.”

Coastal's selection committee, headed by treasurer Roger Burgess, reviewed the CVs of more than 160 applicants, and whittled the choice down to 10. After discussion at Conservative Central Office with the party's national chairman Eric Pickles, the ten became six.

The five candidates she defeated were: Hugo de Burgh, a journalist and China studies professor at the University of Westminster who lives in Woodbridge; corporate lawyer Sophie Stanbrook who lives in Suffolk; Norfolk farmer Kay Mason; Lincolnshire headteacher Tim Clark; and Nadhim Zahawi one of the founders of the YouGov polling organiser.

Meanwhile, a study by grass roots website ConservativeHome said there could be a big increase in the number of female and ethnic minority Tory MPs at the general election.

Currently just 18 of the Conservatives' 193 MPs are women - 9.3% - while only two are from ethnic minorities.

It predicted that if Mr Cameron secures an overall majority of one, the number of women MPs would rise to 61 - 18.7% of the total - and there will be 12 from ethnic minorities.