THE search for a new Tory candidate to replace Sir James Duddridge will now be underway after he confirmed he will be stepping down ahead of the next general election.

The Echo has now looked at recent general election candidates across Essex, high-ranking councillors and other senior local politicians to highlight the runners and riders who could put their names in the hat.

The Echo has not spoken to the people named, and they have not put themselves forward, but the Echo has highlighted them due to their political ambition.

1. James Courtenay:

James Courtenay is a current Southend councillor who is responsible for public protection.

The Tory councillor has represented the residents of the Chalkwell Ward since May 2021.

He is an experienced councillor having been on the council for more than ten years in total and was previously the deputy leader.

He lost his seat in 2019 after an eight-year period but regained it in May 2021.

Mr Courtenay grew up in Chalkwell, having lived in Finchley Road and Crowstone Road for a total of 25 years.

He was poised to throw his name into the ring for the by-election to replace the late Sir David Amess.

He stated at the time ahead of the by-election that he was “considering whether to apply”.

Mr Courtenay has spent 2023 focusing on crime in Southend and cracking down on a number of issues.

2. Alex Bright:

Alex Bright is a former Conservative councillor for Southchurch ward who stepped down in 2022.

Mr Bright had previously thrown his hat into the ring as a candidate for the Southend West seat during a by-election, but failed to make it to the final shortlist of candidates.

This was despite reportedly at the time having the support of almost a dozen MPs.

Mr Bright had served as a councillor for almost six years, and after his resignation announced he will take up a “diplomatic post precluding him from public office”.

He has also previously worked for government ministers in Parliament.

Mr Bright was born and brought up in Southend and at the time of his resignation he stated it was “an immense honour and a true privilege” to represent “in my hometown of Southend”.

It is unknown at this stage whether Mr Bright still remains in his new role that means he had to “be politically neutral”.

3. George Coxshall:

George Coxshall is a councillor at Thurrock Council representing the Belhus ward.

He won his seat back in 2022 as he stepped into politics through his dad.

His dad is former council leader Mark Coxshall, and Mark’s partner is Jackie Doyle-Price, Conservative MP for Thurrock.

George Coxshall is councillor responsible for health, adults’ health, and community at Thurrock Council and is highly regarded in the role.

He is also currently part of the team at the office of Sir James Duddridge.

Mr Coxshall won his seat at Thurrock Council just a week after he received his first-class honours degree from University of York.

He has since become an emerging senior Thurrock councillor who has strong family connections within the political world.

4. Andrew Sheldon:

Andrew Sheldon is an Essex county councillor for South Benfleet and was previously leader of Castle Point Council.

He is heavily involved in local politics and from the Echo’s understanding has always had political ambition.

Mr Sheldon is Benfleet born and raised and was only 22 years old when he first became a councillor in 2010.

After completing his A-Levels at King John School, in Thundersley, Mr Sheldon went on to study for a degree in politics and international relations at the University of London and while there he worked part time as an assistant for Clacton MP, Douglas Carswell in his Westminster Office.

He went on to become a councillor and council leader at Castle Point Council where he fought for residents and businesses.

Since losing his seat in 2022, Mr Sheldon continues to represent South Benfleet as an Essex county councillor.

5. James Halden:

James Halden is a Conservative councillor and became the youngest and first gay mayor of Thurrock.

He currently represents The Homesteads at Thurrock Council.

Mr Halden is a long-standing councillor and as been in the role since 2010 - almost 14 years.

He is the current chair of the housing overview and scrutiny committee.

Mr Halden was the 48th mayor for Thurrock Council over the 2022 annual period.

During his time as mayor, Mr Halden completed more than 320 engagements and raised more than £23,000 for charity.

The former councillor responsible for education and health has always had a long held ambition to become mayor.

He achieved that as the youngest mayor ever of Thurrock, and the first gay mayor too - an achievement Mr Halden is proud of.

6. Julia Jeapes:

Julia Jeapes is a Chelmsford councillor for Little Baddow Danbury and Sandon.

Ms Jeapes has lived and worked in the Chelmsford area for almost 50 years.

She served as a police officer for 30 years and, between 2005 and 2015, was Chelmsford divisional commander.

Her background has given her an invaluable insight into community issues as a councillor, and provided her with experience of partnership working and local problem solving.

In 2015, Ms Jeapes also served as the councillor responsible for leisure, which included the exciting new redevelopment of Riverside Ice and Leisure Centre.

Ms Jeapes was among 112 candidates who previously threw their name in the hat to be considered as one of the prospective candidates for the Conservatives to replace the former Southend West MP, Sir David Amess, following his death.