A Tory council opposition leader has described the decision to pick Richard Holden as the candidate for Basildon and Billericay days before the selection process closed as “morally bankrupt”.

His comments come after the Tory chairman sought to dodge questions about how he landed the plum Conservative constituency during a tetchy TV interview.

Mr Holden, until recently the MP for North West Durham, was the sole candidate presented on what was expected to be a shortlist of three names for the Basildon and Billericay seat, angering some local members.

He ignored questions on Sunday about his candidacy during a pooled television interview, which he used instead to attack Labour’s schools policy, until Sky News’ Jon Craig stopped him, saying it was “ridiculous”.

On Monday, Andrew Baggott, the leader of the Conservative opposition on Basildon council, said: “I have made no secret of the fact that the actions of the party are morally bankrupt.

“They’ve ridden roughshod over the democratic process.”

Mr Baggott, who was first elected to the council in 2004, said: “The party never intended for a local candidate to be considered. That’s fraud. That’s why I can understand why people are angry.”

“But do I point the blame at Richard Holden? I cannot do that.

“I would like people to get onboard and support him, but he has not had that opportunity to do that yet.

“I think he needs to get in front of people to build and garner that support.

“I will support the Conservatives.

“It’s better for us in Basildon to have a Conservative MP than a Reform or Labour one.

“You have to man up and get on with the job.

“(Mr Holden) said that he would ensure that something was done about the selection process and I will hold him to that.

“If he does not deliver that would be a difficult discussion.”

Mr Baggott said that the Conservative Association’s rules were changed in late May to prevent a local candidate from being selected.

Mr Baggott said: “I have had calls from people that have said they will vote for Reform and having seen the actions of the candidates department, I can almost understand it.

“I cannot believe that this was something of their making.

“I have said to Richard (Holden) that local potential candidates have been totally frauded by the candidates department.

“They have been quite happy to take people’s money on the basis that they had a shot at selection when they had no opportunity whatsoever.

“I have this one colleague, and all he wanted was to serve the people of this borough.

“To take that away is beyond cruel.

“And if people choose to not campaign, I support them in that position.

“I would not castigate them for that.”

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Stuart Allen, the councillor for Crouch, said: “It’s unfortunate that we have had people pushed out that have been helping us fight elections.

“These were people who aspired to be an MP, but they were just pushed out of the way.

“It’s a safe seat. (Mr Holden) should get it. He’ll get his team together and win it I suppose.”

Mr Allen, who has sat on the council since 2000, clarified that he will still vote Conservative on polling day but said: “It might not be as safe as (it was) with the previous number.

“It could be a shock result if Labour gets good support.”

Dr Richard Moore, who has served on the council since 2004, said he accepts the party’s decision to impose Mr Holden in Basildon.

The councillor for Burstead said: “Mr Holden was the only one that we were offered.

“The choice we had was given to us on the 5th June.

“We did not have any time to find anyone else.”

Dr Moore, the former cabinet member for planning, said: “I don’t think they were fair to us but it is what it is – we are running with him.”

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Asked if he would be campaigning for Mr Holden, Mr Moore said: “Yes of course. I’m happy with Richard.”

Dave Johnson, a 70-year-old who lives in nearby Langdon and identifies as a “lifelong” Labour voter, said: “It’s ridiculous to run with a candidate from well outside the area. And he’s got a say on what goes on here? I don’t think so.”

The Conservative Party and Mr Holden has been contacted for comment.