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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 June 2006, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Conservative candidates
On Sunday 04 June 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Francis Maude MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Francis Maude MP
Francis Maude MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party

ANDREW MARR: The Party Chairman, Francis Maude, is with me. Good morning, Mr Maude.

FRANCIS MAUDE: Good morning Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: Thank you. Well, first time out you get a B lister, does it matter?

FRANCIS MAUDE: Well you said, you described it as a first test, it was never a test. There have always been different rules applied to the selection of a candidate for a by-election for very obvious reasons, because a by-election you don't have a long period you hope to have with a candidate for a general election seat to bed themselves in.

So it's always been a compressed process and it worked this time in exactly the same way as it's always worked, and I've been amused all week, actually, by some of your colleagues, and particularly in the print media trying to generate a row between the association and headquarters on this ...

ANDREW MARR: It's a harmless hobby ... it's a harmless hobby. They've been doing it for years. Can I ask you, you know.. for all of those people watching who don't fully understand, what the point is of the A-List? What do you want to achieve for the Conservative Party with this system?

FRANCIS MAUDE: What we want to do is to make our parliamentary representation more reflective of contemporary Britain. You know there are barely proportionately more women Conservative MPs today than there were in the first election after women got the vote in the 1920s. So that's wrong.

I mean that makes us look like a party that is not reflective of modern Britain and we're very under-represented also in terms of candidates from an ethnic minority background as well.

ANDREW MARR: And so this suggests that local Conservative activists who choose the candidates at the moment are not trusted, or not able to choose a broad enough selection. They will go for the white middle class man every time.

FRANCIS MAUDE: No, I don't think that's the case at all. What we're doing is, we're saying.. we're encouraging ...

ANDREW MARR: But you wouldn't need to encourage it if they weren't causing a problem ...

FRANCIS MAUDE: No, no, well we are absolutely clear that there needs to be change, and the great thing is that the membership of the party overwhelmingly agree with that because they voted for David Cameron by a large majority when he very explicitly set out his determination to change this.

ANDREW MARR: The trouble, looking at it from the outside is that you want people to choose A-List candidates, but if they don't, there's absolutely nothing at the moment that you can do about it.

FRANCIS MAUDE: Well I actually don't mind at all what the route is, whether it's through the A-list or through the selection of local candidates who aren't on the A-list.

The overwhelmingly important thing is that the bench of candidates that gets elected in Conservative held seats, and in winnable seats, the most winnable seats, though that is broadly much more reflective of Britain as a whole.

Now we think the A-List is a good route to do that, and that's why we've put a lot of effort into putting together a really talented list of people. There are loads of talented candidates not on the list.

ANDREW MARR: But why will they not just ignore you? I mean why would they say, okay, party headquarters telling us to take people from this A-list or wanting us to but we are going to go ahead, we're stoutly independent as we always have been, we're going to choose the people we want.

You then get a Conservative list of candidates at the next election, very, very similar to the last election and the one before. What do you do?

FRANCIS MAUDE: Well, I think everyone has accepted that that's not an acceptable outcome. I mean the party, in electing David Cameron, explicitly accepted that.

And so one way or another, that mustn't be allowed to happen. But you know.. you're suggesting that there's an enormous resistance to this process in the party and the country and it's just not the case. We've had.. we've got a number of selections just beginning ...

ANDREW MARR: How many between now and the summer?

FRANCIS MAUDE: Well I mean there'll be 30 or so happening between now and the end of the summer and we've been going out, explaining the process, explaining how it works to the local associations, and actually, there hasn't been a lot of push back. There's been some.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm, sure, sure.

FRANCIS MAUDE: And it would have been astonishing if there hadn't been, but there hasn't been huge push back. We always made it clear that an association can interview a local candidate who's not on the A-list, if that's what they want, and we'll certainly be amenable to that.

But the idea that this is a huge.. there's huge resistance to this is fantasy.

ANDREW MARR: Alright, you use this great phrase that you're not going to impose "mincing metrosexuals on gritty Northern seats" which caused distress to many mincing metrosexuals and to many gritty Northern seat holders as well.

FRANCIS MAUDE: Yes, I was forgetting temporarily that radio doesn't carry inverted commas.

ANDREW MARR: (laugh) Indeed. But I think one of the worries of a lot of people, whether they're in gritty Northern seats or not, is that there's a sort of a political agenda and that the kind of stroppy, idiosyncratic, rightwing candidates are going to be pushed off and you're going top get a bland sort of vaguely blue, Blairish feel to the party come the next election.

A lot of people around the country say no, we want our proper true Conservative standing.

FRANCIS MAUDE: Well I love your phrase: "a political agenda" a shocking thing that a political party should have a political agenda.

We have a political agenda, absolutely, which is that we have candidates elected for our best seats, for the Conservative held seats, and for the most winnable seats, who are very, very able, who will be idiosyncratic, who will not all come from a conventional Conservative background, and will not fit the stereotype.

ANDREW MARR: People have focused this guy Adam Rickitt as being a sort of.. not the kind of person you'd expect to be a Conservative Candidate. Is he the kind of person you'd like to see.

FRANCIS MAUDE: Well I'd love to see him as one of a number of candidates. I know that he's ... we're substituting one stereotype with another is ridiculous, we want a broad range. It's often said, and it's never quite true, that you don't get the colourful characters in politics today that you used to have.

I want there to be variety, we want there to be lots of idiosyncratic people. They've got to be Conservative obviously but I mean what is a Conservative needs to be broadly defined, so that actually we're a broad enough party in appeal that we can attract the votes of nearly half of the population.

ANDREW MARR: And what do you think would be an acceptable proportion of your elected MPs at the next election, however many there may be, who will be for instance - women?

FRANCIS MAUDE: Well you can't possibly say that because we don't know how many new MPs there are going to be. So we hope ...

ANDREW MARR: But you would agree that the lack of female Conservative MPs is a kind of disgrace at the moment?

FRANCIS MAUDE: Yes, absolutely , we've said that. David Cameron the other day said it's a scandal, and it is, and it is something we need to address, and most people in the party ... this is the point about this, most people in the party totally agree with that.

They say: "Yes, we are underrepresented by women." Only 19% of our candidates in winnable seats were women last time, only 12% of the new MPs were women, and we are woefully underrepresented by the 10% of Britain's population and voters who now come from black and minority ethnic origins, and that has ...

ANDREW MARR: And the frontbench is almost entirely white male upper middle class?

FRANCIS MAUDE: No, it isn't, but I mean ...

ANDREW MARR: Very few are not.

FRANCIS MAUDE: Well I don't claim that it's remotely representative enough but you're caricaturing it there.

ANDREW MARR: Only just.

FRANCIS MAUDE: Well ... maybe, we're not going to argue over.. at the margins. I fully accept the broad point that it's not representative enough. But the point is, everyone in the party has been willing the end of being more representative for a long time, but we've been funking the means.

The A-list approach is not perfect, and at the end of the summer we've always said we would take stock and see how it needs to be amended, improved, to make it work better. But it is a means that would change, it would achieve the end, and we've got to get off this business of willing the ends but refusing to will the means. This is a means - let's go for it.

ANDREW MARR: Alright, we'll be watching very carefully. Thank you very much indeed for joining us, Francis Maude.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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