'I was thrown to the wolves by my party': Wakefield Tory party candidate ditched before 2019 General Election speaks out

Antony Calvert was just two days away from quite probably becoming Wakefield's next Member of Parliament, and the first Conservative to hold the title for 87 years.

By David Spereall
Friday, 17th July 2020, 4:45 pm
Mr Calvert has stood for Parliament four times, three of which were for the Wakefield constituency.
Mr Calvert has stood for Parliament four times, three of which were for the Wakefield constituency.

It was November 2019 and the General Election was a month away. Mr Calvert, who'd stood for the Tories in the seat twice before without success, was the party's choice of candidate for a third time.

It may have fast become a tired and overused cliche among London's political commentators, but Labour's so-called Red Wall of seats in the North really was shaking this time and Wakefield would turn blue.

Except by that point Mr Calvert was no longer on the ballot paper.

Mr Calvert on the campaign trail with then Cabinet minister Chris Grayling, at Wakefield Kirkgate Station, before the 2017 General Election

Just 48 hours before party selections were declared final, historic social media posts shredded his political ambitions and prompted the Tories to ditch him as a candidate.

To recap, in 2011 Mr Calvert had suggested Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi should have hidden in Bradford to avoid capture, while there was also a jibe about the BBC's "makeup department not working on Sundays", as Ms Creagh appeared on weekend TV.

The posts were widely condemned and Ms Creagh, who'd been the city's MP for 14 years, tweeted that there was "no room for racism in Wakefield".

Eight months on and speaking in his first interview since the fallout, Mr Calvert says he does have regrets. Though he's unrepentant about the nature of the posts, he strongly denies the suggestion he's a racist.

"I regret not picking the posts up and deleting them," he reflects from a social distance, on a rainy Friday at Wakefield's Trinity Walk shopping centre.

"At the time, there was a hell of a lot of nervousness down at Conservative Party HQ about the threat of Jeremy Corbyn and the problems we could have, if there was the impression that the party was institutionally racist and we had people who were unpleasant candidates.

"All political parties have unpleasant candidates.

"I think there was a determination that what happened to us in 2017 (when a botched campaign saw the Tories lose their majority) wasn't going to happen in 2019."

In a statement released as the furore broke, property consultant Mr Calvert said he'd taken the "difficult decision" to step away from the contest.

He now reveals he had "no choice at all" in the matter, albeit he had a say on who would replace him on the ballot paper.

"The reason for it was the party were very keen to stay on top of the media that weekend," he asserts.

"You now how important it is to do that (at election time), especially if you've got a big announcement coming up.

"It was frustrating for me because I genuinely thought I'd win the seat.

"When this all happened I was totally thrown to the wolves by the party.

"I know they were fighting an election but there was no pastoral care or anything like that.

"It affected my personal life, my business, my mental health and it massively affected my family.

"I don't want to apportion blame to individuals but it's disappointing there wasn't more of a defence of what were historic and clearly jocular remarks."

He's pressed further on the nature of the remarks and it's put to him that such scrutiny comes with the territory of anyone standing for Parliament.

"I certainly accept that," is the reply.

"Politics is a dirty business. If you can't stand the heat, there's the exit door.

"Under normal circumstances I'd accept that, but other candidates on both sides had said things that were grossly offensive and were still allowed to stand.

"I think it was unfair and an easy cop-out for them to knife me, just to try to maintain control of a news cycle."

Aged 42, and running his own property consultancy which takes him on regular visits from West Yorkshire to London, Mr Calvert remains deeply attached to Wakefield, his home city.

He had served as a district councillor for four years from 2003 and got his first stab at Parliament at the 2010 General Election, where he was unable to oust Labour's Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood.

His background is important, he believes, as he claims what he said on Facebook was "lazily distorted" by people who didn't know him.

His critics, the argument goes, had no knowledge he was once engaged to be married to a black South African woman. His sister-in-law hails from eastern Europe.

"There's nothing on (my social media) that I could honestly look at and say it's not Antony Calvert bantering with his mates," he adds.

"There's no comments I could look at and think it was hateful towards one individual or a section of society.

"I did an exercise two weeks ago where I looked at 150 Labour and Tory MPs and every one of them has said something in the past that they regret.

"They've apologised and their party retains them to fight the General Election and they're not thrown to the wolves."

If there is bitterness, none of it is aimed in the direction of local Tory members, or the man who was ultimately elected to serve Wakefield in Westminster, Imran Ahmad Khan.

Mr Calvert says the pair remain close friends, and believes his successor on the ballot paper will make an "outstanding" MP.

But that doesn't mean he's ruled out standing for the job again at some point in the future.

"I'm not finished with politics yet," he responds, when asked what his future might hold now. "I'm still relatively young for Parliament.

"I want to make a contribution towards Wakefield in politics and see where that goes, but I've no ambition to become MP for some posh southern place where they can't understand my accent."

2019 would have been Antony Calvert's fourth General Election campaign. Few political careers, in the pre-MP phase at least, have rebounded from a scandal that's forced resignation.

All the same, don't rule out campaign number five.

Local Democracy Reporting Service