Charlotte Vere has been selected as the new Conservative candidate for Brighton Pavilion at the next general election.

Big White Wall chief executive Mrs Vere was selected tonight from six finalists in an “open primary” staged by the Brighton Pavilion Conservative Association.

Each of the contenders faced 20 minutes of questioning from the 80 association members and members of the public who had gathered at The Grand hotel, in King’s Road, Brighton, before a series of elimination votes were held.

Barrister Anna Firth was knocked out first, followed by senior Conservative organiser Scott Digby.

Local candidate Andrew Wealls and tv producer Douglas Chirnside were both eliminated simultaneously in the third round of voting.

Charity worker Mr Wealls’ departure drew gasps from the audience.

Two votes had to be held to separate Charlotte Vere and insurance broker Mary Weale after the first produced a dead heat.

The vote counts were not revealed to the public, only the results.

Mrs Vere, who has been closely involved with the campaigns of environmentally-minded millionaire Tory Zac Goldsmith, appeared to emerge victorious by a slender margin.

The mother-of-two, from south-west London, said: “It has been a huge experience over the last two weeks. You should know I wasn’t on the first shortlist, I was a reserve.

“We have a huge fight ahead of us but it’s a fight I believe we can win. I will put up an excellent fight and I absolutely intend to win”

She will now contest the general election, expected in May, in what is anticipated to be one of the closest constituencies in the country.

It is held by retiring MP David Lepper by a 5,000 vote majority which his Labour successor Nancy Platts will hope to maintain.

It has also been made the Green Party’s top target after a series of strong local and European election performances and their national leader Caroline Lucas has been brought in to contest the seat.

During the open primary each of the candidates answered questions about their reasons for entering politics, their views of Brighton and Hove, their role models and a series of public queries involving the economy, the gay community, green beliefs, Afghanistan, Europe, tax, immigration, crime and cleanliness. Several people left during the three and a half hour selection process.

Following the selection BPCA chairwoman Carol Ramsden said: “Charlotte is going to be absolutely brilliant. The fact it went right to the wire shows how strong a field there was. We’re ready for the fight now. It will be starting tomorrow and as far as we are concerned, bring it on.”

There were mixed reactions among the audience.

Jason Bull, who attended as a member of the public, said: “I didn’t vote for her on the first round but I think she was the strongest candidate. I originally voted for one of the three gay candidates (Scott Digby, Andrew Wealls and Douglas Chirnside) because I’m gay and I would’ve liked to have seen one of them selected.”

Resident Derek Burns said: “I thought the whole process was a bit long winded, they could have narrowed it down to less candidates and a shorter time each. It was extremely difficult to choose. Everyone around me said they didn’t know who to vote for. I think Charlotte Vere has got a very tough fight on her hands with the Greens now.”

Conservative Brighton and Hove City Councillor Geoffrey Theobald said: “We’ve got a good candidate and we’re going to win.”