Local Conservative Party members are due to meet tomorrow (Wednesday 30 July) to choose a candidate to stand in Hove at the next general election.
The selection process is under way because the sitting MP Mike Weatherley announced this month that he would step down in May next year when the election is due to be held.
The shortlist is expected to contain two or three names. Before the shortlist was decided, a party member said there was one name that many hoped to see – Graham Cox. Councillor Cox is the newest member of the opposition Conservative group on Brighton and Hove City Council, having won the Westbourne by-election in December 2011.
At 52 he is not quite the youngest Tory councillor. And he came to active party politics late in life, having served first as a police officer for 30 years.
He was born in Portslade. He joined Sussex Police in his teens. He rose to become the last borough commander in Hove and headed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) as a detective chief superintendent. He stepped up to acting assistant chief constable a few times before a stint at the Home Office, working for the National Police Improvement Agency.
Councillor Cox has won admiration across the political spectrum – even among those who profoundly disagree with him. One opponent said: “He clearly has a social conscience and he’s not the most tribal of Tories.” He is patient, courteous and good humoured in the council chamber. Yet it’s hard to imagine that he rose through the force without an element of steel.
That element of steel – and the single-mindedness that goes with it – means that Councillor Cox has at times upset those who might be counted among his natural supporters. He surprised political friends and foes – and was vilified in some quarters – for supporting 20mph speed limits. He also backed changes to the Seven Dials having seen, as a police officer, the results of too many nasty crashes.
He has also surprised some during debates about homelessness and travellers, suggesting pragmatic solutions. A political opponent said: “He may have a social conscience but he probably doesn’t qualify as a bleeding heart liberal.”
Another political rival said: “He doesn’t always say what you’d expect. He seems to be his own man and he thinks about things.”
Now, most voters might like to believe that politicians always think about things but it’s a luxury for many. Relatively few show signs of having the time or inclination. Party politics is a tribal pursuit and those who run for office are bound by party discipline – and that includes toeing the party line on most issues most of the time.
In the past Councillor Cox has said that he would favour a strong local candidate who could connect with the electorate. But he wasn’t averse to an able outsider who could win a seat at the expense of a weaker more local contender putting victory at risk.
Who else might he face tomorrow? The shortlist is likely to include Kristy Adams, 43, a businesswoman with a council seat in Bedford. She’s been active in the party in Brighton and Hove in recent weeks. Opponents have mocked her attempts on social media to promote her local credentials but she is from the area and has had a home in Hove longer than some of them realise.
Whoever the party chooses will be expected to begin campaigning soon. With nine months to go, Peter Kyle, who is standing for Labour, and Christopher Hawtree, the Green Party choice, have already made a start. Recent contests suggest a two-way Tory v Labour scrap.
One local Conservative said: “We know Kristy’s up for it. And she has all the makings of a great candidate. But in Graham, we have someone who plenty of voters already know and trust – and that counts for a lot when time is so short.” Tomorrow the Tories will make their choice. Next May it’ll be up to the voters of Hove.