Conservatives have been accused of being undemocratic after a hustings was cancelled in the general election hotspot of Beaconsfield following a threat to report the Girl Guide hall where it was due to be held to the Charity Commission.
The meeting – in a seat where the former attorney general Dominic Grieve is challenging Tories after being thrown out of the party over his opposition to a no-deal Brexit – was hastily reorganised to go ahead in a pub.
Organisers said that they invited Conservative candidate Joy Morrissey almost three weeks ago on 21 November to take part in the event in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, but were told she could not attend. They said the invitation was repeated on 3 December, when all candidates were informed of the venue.
Download the new Indpendent Premium app
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
On Sunday, the day of the event, the hall received a message from the deputy chair of Beaconsfield Conservative Association, who said that the hustings was “improperly constituted” and that its organisers were not impartial and that Ms Morrissey had been forced to decline the invitation after being approached “with no choice of date and at short notice”.
The letter warned that the Charity Commission expected charitable organisations to show “impartiality and balance” during election periods, and demanded that a statement explaining its concerns should be read out at the start of the hustings and a member of the association be given a right to reply.
“If you choose not to accede to our request, we shall have to consider referral of this matter to the Charity Commission,” the letter warned.
After the meeting was called off, Mr Grieve said: “I find this behaviour deeply regrettable and entirely against the spirit of democratic debate. Quite what Ms Morrissey has to hide, I’m not sure.”
But Ms Morrissey suggested in a tweet that she had been given only the shortest of notice of the event, which supporters denounced as a “stunt” by supporters of Mr Grieve.
“In the spirit of fairness shall we organise a Beaconsfield stand up for Brexit and democracy hustings, decide on the location, venue and then 24 hours before the hustings invite the Independent candidate?” she asked. “Seems fair to me.”
There was no immediate response from the Beaconsfield Conservative Association or Conservative campaign HQ to a request for comment from The Independent.
Labour’s candidate in the seat, Alexa Collins, accused Tories of “attempting to stifle the debate”, while Green Zoe Hatch said: “All of the rest of the candidates were happy to submit themselves to local questions and for us, there was no issue with who was organising the event – a debate is a debate and we had an excellent impartial moderator ready to referee proceedings.”