Louie French (right), beat Matt Hartley (left) after the two tied in the initial vote
(photo: twitter.com/CDavisEltham)

Conservatives in Eltham have rejected Greenwich Council’s opposition leader Matt Hartley as their candidate for the next general election – instead picking Louie French, the deputy leader of Bexley Council, to take on Labour MP Clive Efford.

French, a councillor for Falconwood and Welling – just across the borough border – defeated Hartley on a second vote after the pair initially tied at a selection meeting last night.

The choice of French, a councillor in Bexley since 2014 who describes himself as a “frustrated commuter”, will be a blow to Hartley, who finished nearly 6,300 votes behind Efford in 2017’s poll, after Ukip voters from 2015’s election switched to Labour rather than the Tories.

At last week’s special council meeting to discuss the implications of Britain exiting the European Union without a deal, council leader Danny Thorpe mocked Hartley for allegedly having to sign an agreement not to discuss a no-deal Brexit if he wished to be a Tory candidate.

The decision also comes amid divisions within Greenwich Conservatives over the party’s current position. At that same council meeting, Tory councillor Matt Clare – who backed the Remain campaign – noticeably raised his eyebrows as Hartley tried to defend Boris Johnson’s stance on negotiating with the EU.

With national politics in turmoil, French’s chances of unseating Efford depend on numerous factors. But the choice of a Bexley councillor as a candidate in the constituency which has controlled Greenwich borough politics for the past decade does indicate that the council’s Labour leadership may soon return to their old sport of criticising their neighbours across the border at council meetings.

In Greenwich & Woolwich, Matt Pennycook – who stood down as shadow Brexit minister on Wednesday, citing the imminent birth of his family’s second child – has been reconfirmed as the Labour party’s candidate for the next election.

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