Tory chairman Richard Holden sought to dodge questions about how he landed a 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 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”.

Craig was then challenged off-camera by an adviser who claimed the subject of the interview was not meant to cover Mr Holden’s position, an assertion Sky’s veteran chief political correspondent disagreed with.

Basildon and Billericay is regarded as a safe Conservative seat, with John Baron having won a majority of 20,412 over his nearest Labour opponent in 2019.

Asked if it was an appalling stitch-up, Mr Holden said: “This interview is about Emily Thornberry’s comments today in which she admitted that it’s going to be our children across the country who pay the price for Labour’s decision to try and tax private schools if they get into office.”

Pressed again on his candidacy, he again began talking about Ms Thornberry, who had earlier appeared to accept that state school class sizes may go up if parents took the children out of the private system.

Asked for a third time about the “anti-democratic” process that led to his candidacy, Mr Holden began his answer with the words “Emily Thornberry” but got cut off by Craig who said: “I’m going to stop you now, this is ridiculous.”

Craig then challenged Mr Holden about his claim that he was “bloody loyal” to the North East.

The Tory party chairman said he had “already answered these questions” in a previous interview with Channel 4.

Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said: “Ric Holden is running the Tory election campaign.

“If chicken-run Ric can’t stand the heat, he should get out of the kitchen.”