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Julie Kirkbride "fighting for her political life" as 81% of party members say she should go

Julie Kirkbride Afternoon update: Listen here to Jonathan Isaby featured on Radio 4's World at One today in its item about Julie Kirkbride (item starts at 5mins 30secs in and Jonathan appears about 10 minutes in). Here's a transcript of what he said:

"What is particularly missing at this time is her coming out in public, meeting her constituents, talking to TV cameras, explaining what happened, perhaps being a little humble about all of this and giving a satisfactory explanation to her constituents and the wider Conservative family to be quite frank, because speaking to people from the West Midlands region where she is an MP, these things do have a knock-on effect and there are other marginal seats far closer to her constituency where people have got Labour majorities to overturn which may be more difficult if the local Conservative politician is seen as tainted and not having justified their actions and also I gather that Conservative Party HQ has had party donors from the region expressing concern that she hasn't satisfactorily justified what she has done."

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9am update: With 1,144 votes collated from ConservativeHome's monthly survey over the last 20 hours, 81% of party members think Julie Kirkbride should go, whilst only 6% say she should remain as a Conservative MP.

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That's how the Daily Express puts the plight of the Bromsgrove MP, whose husband, Andrew Mackay, announced at the weekend his intention to stand down as MP for Bracknell at the next election.

The Daily Mail, meanwhile, suggests that she faces a "public execution".

Aside from the original issue of both Mr Mackay and Miss Kirkbride claiming second home allowances for different homes - for which David Cameron said Miss Kirkbride's situation was different - further issues have since been raised:

  • the status of her brother, Ian, who has apparently lived rent-free in and run a business from her Worcestershire home, whilst reportedly helping her with childcare;
  • the charging of camera equipment and computer accessories bought by her brother to parliamentary allowances;
  • the fact that her sister, Karen, is employed as a part-time secretary working out of her home in Dorset.

Miss Kirkbride has been quoted in newspapers as saying that all expenditure on allowances was "entirely in relation to parliamentary duties” and that her sister mainly works on constituency correspondence during recesses.

But such words have not been sufficient to calm the storm that is brewing in Bromsgrove. Sources close to David Cameron are said to be frustrated at Miss Kirkbride's refusal so far to face her constituents at a public meeting, over 4,000 of whom are now understood to have signed a petition calling on her to step down.

When the story first broke about the couple's use of second home allowances, she answered some questions from the Bromsgrove Standard, but as David Cameron has acknowledged, she does have further questions to answer about the other issues which have since come to light. 

When interviewed on Radio Five Live at the weekend she put the phone down when pursued over her brother's status - something she had also done to her local radio station in 2007 when asked about her and Mr Mackay's second home claims, a clip of which ran on Have I Got News for You at the end of last week.

Such a course of action is hardly the ideal way to endear oneself to angry voters demanding explanations. It remains to be seen what conclusion the Conservative Party's scrutiny panel makes of her arrangements, but refusal to engage with voters and the media will not make the questions go away.

Jonathan Isaby

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