To the uninitiated, Tattersalls is an historic and world-renowned bloodstock auction house in Newmarket, Suffolk. Since 1766, the finest race horses in the world have been bought and sold here. As the magnificent beasts are paraded around the sales ring, eager bidders sit in circular rows of seats, each aiming to catch the auctioneer’s eye. This is a serious business: last year Tatts sold 10,000 horses and turned over 400 million guineas.
On Sunday, the famous old building bore witness to a different business but one which is no less serious. Lord Hayward, former Conservative MP and retired rugby referee, played auctioneer. And the members of the West Suffolk Conservative Association took to their seats to inspect and assess not the usual parade of equine perfection, but us: the final four applicants from whom they would select their candidate for the next general election.
I have known this beautiful patch of England all my life. Although I grew up in Birmingham, my parents live in a village here called Hundon – something that confused one hard-of-hearing local who thought I was talking up my ties to London. I also had close family living in Newmarket for years, and my aunt married a US fighter pilot based at RAF Mildenhall. I have vivid childhood memories watching the horses from Newmarket racing along the gallops in the early morning mist. It is a breathtaking view that, once seen, can never be forgotten. It is one of the unique majesties of life on these isles.
These are, I implored my audience, strong local credentials. But I was up against stellar competition: Ben Obese-Jecty, a former army officer, Louise McKinlay, from Essex County Council, and Richard Rout, deputy leader of Suffolk County Council, all made their pitches.