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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 18:12 GMT
Tories 'need US-style primaries'
Andrew Tyrie
Andrew Tyrie: Tories must adapt to win elections
A Conservative revival could be fuelled by US-style constituency primaries, a new party conference format and a review of campaigning techniques, a senior Tory MP has suggested.

Andrew Tyrie - campaign manager for defeated leadership candidate Ken Clarke - also says a change of tone is crucial for a party sometimes seen as "intolerant, arrogant and extreme".


Another serious defeat beckons unless we address the causes of the last two

Andrew Tyrie
The Tories must now reflect the liberal tolerance of the middle ground voters they need to attract on issues including marriage, Section 28 and immigration, he said.

Without such radical change, Mr Tyrie writes in a new pamphlet called Back from the Brink, the Tories under Iain Duncan Smith can look forward to another serious electoral defeat.

The MP for Chichester even raises the spectre of the Liberals' demise 100 years ago to illustrate how no party is immune from collapsing at the ballot box.

He says although June's defeat will probably be seen as the worst in Conservative history it could get even worse - "we may be on the ledge of a deeper pit" - without changes of policy, presentational tone and organisation.

Calling for a broadening of the backgrounds from which parliamentary candidates are chosen, Mr Tyrie rules out positive discrimination methods such as women-only shortlists.

'Huge' Tory advantage

But he does suggest the "radical" notion of importing primaries from the United States, with all Conservatives in a constituency given a vote to choose their preferred candidate ahead of an election.

Suddenly thousands, if not tens of thousands, would be involved in a process previously confined to a "dedicated few", he says.

"If well constructed it could transform the image of the party in many areas."

E-mail campaigning

Mr Tyrie also suggests reforming the traditional annual seaside conference format by holding it in major cities and extending the involvement of business and single issue pressure groups.

He also suggests the Conservatives review campaigning techniques - including direct mail, local agents, e-mail and the internet - to find out what really makes an electoral difference.

John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, backed the primaries idea, saying: "It will put people to the test - can they go out and campaign and canvas among their own membership - and I am all in favour of it."

He also backed the suggested reforms of the annual conference, although said allowing genuine motions from members to be openly debated was a more urgent requirement.

Hague criticised

In his pamphlet Mr Tyrie says Britain's middle ground is there for the taking by the Conservative Party - but the 2001 election showed how not to do it.

There is criticism of former leader William Hague for not ousting MP John Townend after his controversial remarks about multiculturalism.

But it is Conservative attitudes towards Europe that have "created most indelibly the impression of extremism".

Urging Mr Duncan Smith not to turn his personal "never to the euro" view into party policy instead of a pragmatic "wait and see" approach, Mr Tyrie says the party must discuss its differences on the issue in more moderate tones.

But there is praise too for Mr Duncan Smith, who beat Ken Clarke by a clear margin at the end of the gruelling summer leadership race, for some of his actions to improve the image of the party, such as disassociating it from the right wing Monday Club.

See also:

29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Lib Dems claim opposition crown
05 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Tories will 'pay the price' for leader
26 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Clarke 'would accept frontbench role'
13 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Ken Clarke, two-time 'lucky loser'
10 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tory conference format sparks row
30 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Top Tories tussle for leadership
23 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Europe dominates Tory debate
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