A "feisty" woman who came close to winning a Parliamentary seat in Brighton has turned her back on the Conservative Party.

Judith Symes, who appeared on Tory leader David Cameron's A-list of approved candidates, said she had lost faith in the party and was now a Labour supporter.

Her shock defection will come as a huge embarrassment to the Tories, who had trumpeted Ms Symes as one of a new generation of women candidates.

When Ms Symes, a management consultant, stood for election in Brighton Kemptown in 2005 she came within 2,700 votes of unseating Labour's Des Turner.

Her campaign was taken so seriously by the Conservatives that Sandra Howard, wife of then party leader Michael Howard, was dispatched to the constituency to lend her support.

At the time Mrs Howard, a former model, told The Argus that Ms Symes was one of the party's many "fantastic" women candidates.

She added: "They're feisty and young and in the 21st Century - and they're not dressed in Tory pearls."

Ms Symes, 43, told The Argus about her decision to defect at Labour's annual conference in Bournemouth.

She said: "The Conservatives badly needed reform and David Cameron presented himself as the reformer but he is not succeeding.

"He has not gathered together a cross-section of society. Instead, elitism and exclusivity are at the heart of the party."

Explaining her new-found fondness for Labour, she said: "We have had ten years of record investment in public services and the highest employment ever, as well as a new prime minister who was the most competent chancellor, creating stability and a growing economy.

"I see the positive changes and the great opportunities available to more people of all backgrounds - and I want to work to keep the Labour party in government."

Her pledge of support was welcomed by Labour's prospective candidate for Kemptown, former Brighton and Hove City Councillor Simon Burgess, who said: "I thought she was a reasonable Tory when she stood and I'm glad she's coming across."

Ms Symes's defection suggests Prime Minister Gordon Brown's strategy of reaching out to supporters from other parties is reaping rewards.

Today, in a sign of Labour's growing confidence, Warren Morgan, the party's chief whip on Brighton and Hove City Council, offered Conservative members and councillors an "open invitation" to switch to Labour.

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