A PROMINENT Conservative has quit his local association over a decision to hold an American-style “open primary” to choose a potential MP.

Lord Portsmouth, pictured above right, described the system, used to select the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for North East Hampshire, as “gimmick politics”.

He said he made his views clear to James Russell, chairman of the North East Hampshire Conservative Association, before resigning in December.

The association used the primary system to select Ranil Jayawardena, current deputy leader and Bramley ward member at Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, as prospective candidate for the constituency at the next election. Current MP James Arbuthnot will be standing down in 2015.

Lord Portsmouth, a major landowner who has an estate at Farleigh Wallop, said: “I disapproved of, and continue to disapprove of, the method of selection.

“It is not a reflection on Ranil himself. I have strong reservations, indeed objections, to the way he was selected.”

The “open primary” was held at Sherfield School on Sunday, November 17 last year, where members of the public had the chance to question four potential candidates before voting by secret ballot.

Anyone who registered beforehand could attend the meeting, regardless of their political view, although members could have a final say if the vote had been skewed by political rivals.

“I regard this as gimmick politics,” Lord Portsmouth said. “Maria Miller (Basingstoke MP) was selected in the normal way by Conservative association members coming to the meeting at which the final selection was made.

“That is the system that produced an outstanding candidate, and an outstanding MP that Maria Miller has turned out to be. That is the system that should have been used.”

He added that there was “a lot of disquiet” about the method used to select Mr Jayawardena.

Lord Portsmouth also criticised the boundary changes that came into effect in 2011, which saw his Farleigh Wallop home change from the Basingstoke constituency to North East Hampshire. He added he would continue to support the Basingstoke Conservative Association.

Mr Russell told The Gazette that the association’s executive committee had voted overwhelmingly to use the “open primary” system after being recommended to do so by the party’s Central Office.

He added: “Lord Portsmouth’s resignation is a great disappointment but dare I say I hope it won’t be a permanent exercise.

“He realises the traditional way is being changed, and he’s quite a traditionalist. His argument is more with Central Office than it is with us.”