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Medway councillor Kelly Tolhurst beats Anna Firth to become the Conservative candidate for the Rochester and Strood by-election

By Paul Francis

The Conservative candidate for the forthcoming by-election in Rochester and Strood will be Kelly Tolhurst.

The Medway councillor has been crowned the winner in the two-way vote with Anna Firth for nomination.

The news has been confirmed by the members of the local Conservative association this evening.

Cllr Kelly Tolhurst.
Cllr Kelly Tolhurst.

The Conservatives held an open postal primary to choose the candidate, in which voters in the constituency were able to vote regardless of whether they belonged to the party.

A total of 5,688 people turned out to vote, and Mrs Tolhurst achieved a narrow majority at 50.44% compared to Mrs Firth's 49.56%.

Ms Tolhurst said: "I'm honoured that thousands of local people have voted to select me as the Conservative candidate for the upcoming by-election.

"I've lived in the area my whole life, went to school here and run a small business here. I'm not a career politician and would never want to represent anywhere else in Parliament.

Sevenoaks councillor Anna Firth
Sevenoaks councillor Anna Firth

"My six point plan to improve our area includes action, not just talk, on immigration, getting Medway Hospital out of special measures and fighting to stop the development at Lodge Hill.

"I will be a strong local voice, standing up for Rochester and Strood – my home."

A gracious Mrs Firth added: "The postal primary was a fantastic process to be involved in and my congratulations to Kelly who is going to be a superb candidate.

"I look forward to campaigning with her over the coming weeks in Rochester and Strood."

Ms Tolhurst is likely to face an uphill battle to beat the former Conservative MP Mark Reckless, after his defection to Ukip.

Kelly Tolhurst at the local campaign headquarters
Kelly Tolhurst at the local campaign headquarters

A poll commissioned by Ukip by ComRes today gave Nigel Farage's party a 13 point lead over the Conservatives, with the party on 43%, the Conservatives on 30% and Labour on 21%.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband said during a visit to Rochester today that "the only poll that matters is the one on November 20".

Ms Tolhurst is a life-long resident of Medway and works as a marine surveyor. She was elected to Medway Council three years ago and is cabinet member for schools.

She says on her website that one of her key priorities will be "pressing the government and the council to get immigration properly under control – to ease pressure on services and make sure social housing is made available to local people first".

Ukip has questioned the Conservatives over its postal primary, saying that any money the party has spent on the ballot between the two should be counted as election expenses.

The party has rejected those claims, saying it took advice on the legality of the process under election law.

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