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EDITIONS
Conservatives Monday, 8 October, 2001, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Davis rules out women's quotas
David Davis
David Davis: His first speech as party chairman
The Conservatives must show that they are "open to everyone" but not by using quotas to boost the number of women and ethnic minority MPs, David Davis has told the party's annual conference.


We will have to stop speaking to ourselves as we have too often in the last 10 years - self-indulgently and self-destructively

David Davis
Tory Party chairman
In a speech that stressed the need to broaden the Tories' appeal, the Conservative chairman rejected growing calls from within the party for measures to tackle the under-representation of women among its MPs.

Mr Davis insisted he wanted to attract back "people from every walk of life and every corner" to the Tories, but not with "quotas or gestures".

His comments will disappoint senior Tory women, such as shadow cabinet member Theresa May, who have called for a rethink of the party's opposition to direct measures to increase its number of women MPs.

Of the Conservatives' 166 MPs just 14 are women, compared with Labour's 95 women out of a total of 413 MPs.

'Policies, not quotas'

"I want to encourage the most talented of our generation to become candidates and win back the seats that should be ours," Mr Davis told Conservative representatives in Blackpool.

Theresa May
Theresa May: Backs a rethink of her party's opposition
"The Conservative Party should be open to everyone."

He insisted that he wanted the party to more properly reflect the electorate: "I want us to attract more women, more people from the ethnic minorities, more young activists, people from every walk of life and every corner of Britain."

But he went on to say that the party should win them back with its policies, rather than through taking a lead from Labour's all-women shortlists for parliamentary selections.

"We will do this by shaping relevant and decent policies that are attractive to everyone, not by quotas or gestures that undermine the very principles of freedom and equal opportunity for which we stand."

'Self-indulgent and self-destructive'

In his first speech since being appointed to the key post of party chairman, Mr Davis - who dropped out of the Tory leadership race to back Iain Duncan Smith - acknowledged that the Conservatives had brought at least some of their electoral troubles on themselves.


I grew up on a council estate, the son of a single mum. But I was really lucky - I had a good home and I went to a good state school

David Davis
"If the Conservative Party is to change Britain, we must change ourselves," he said.

"We will have to stop speaking to ourselves as we have too often in the last 10 years - self-indulgently and self-destructively."

Moving with the times was essential, he said, but those within the party who believed that this would be "aping New Labour" were wrong.

"Conservative principles of individual freedom, choice and personal responsibility are not ephemeral. They are enduring and fundamental.

"What we have to do is to apply those enduring principles to modern problems."

This would not, he assured representatives, mean "a PR campaign" or going down the New Labour road of focus groups.

It meant instead "getting out and alongside the people who make this country" like public servants, parents, farmers and local councillors.

Lib Dem attack unit formed

The chairman also said his own, untypical background - he grew up the son of a single mother on a council estate - gave him direct experience of the kind of issues his party must make progress on.

But going to a good state school "gave me a chance in life".

"Today, too many millions have been denied that chance."

People knew "how bad things are" in the public services. "They don't just want to hear us criticise. They want to know that we can make things better.

"That is why we will never oppose just for opposition's sake."

To that end, a new shadow policy unit had been created at Tory headquarters and the Conservative Policy Forum, involving Tory associations across the country, was being re-launched.

Mr Davis also confirmed that the Liberal Democrats, currently styling themselves as "the real opposition", would be a key target following the last election.

"One of the first things I will do is to set up a new unit to challenge the Liberal Democrats," Mr Davis said. "They have been let off too lightly for too long.".

See also:

07 Oct 01 | South Asia
07 Oct 01 | UK
07 Oct 01 | Conservatives
05 Oct 01 | Conservatives
13 Sep 01 | UK Politics
07 Oct 01 | UK Politics
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