I request the interview, but she chooses the time and place. We meet at Thirsk livestock market just after lunch. As the cattle are prodded and paraded, I’m here to do some probing myself.
Anne McIntosh has avoided interviews about her deselection until now. The process was personal and sometimes explosive, and as an experienced MP she’s a pro at publicity - she doesn’t want this to turn toxic and has waited until the furore has died down.
But as the interview unfolds, she begins to reveal how she really feels about being dropped by her local party as Tory candidate for Thirsk and Malton. She admits the campaign around her deselection was ‘difficult’, even ‘curious’ - carefully chosen words. But when I ask about accusations by party members that she’s ‘a nightmare’ to work with, there’s a hint of anger. “Calling an MP a silly little girl, I think most people would find that quite offensive”, she says. “Do you find that offensive?” I ask. She dodges, just enough to keep her powder dry.
But she clearly feels her deselection wasn’t fair. She complains that she wasn’t allowed to contact local party members during the affair (though she did write a letter), and hints at foul play by the local association. In fact, she says the only ‘democratic’ thing to do is to have another vote on who should be candidate, this time involving everyone in the constituency.
What she’s asking for is an open primary, where every voter has a say on who the Tory candidate should be, not just paid-up members of the Conservative party. She’ll have to work hard to get one – it’s not the usual process and the party could easily refuse. But she thinks this could provide unity in Thirsk and Malton; that it’ll settle the argument once and for all.
I ask her whether she’s fighting too hard, whether it’s time to step aside gracefully (I carefully suggest she’ll be 60 at the next election and she’s been an MP for seventeen years). “I’m not ready to hang up my boots” she says, and quite rightly insists age shouldn’t matter. But battling on could make this row even more toxic. Anne McIntosh has fought and won many elections, but it’s a dangerous matter taking on your own party.