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Monday, 2 September, 2002, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Tories unveil 'new-look' conference
Artists impression, supplied by Conservatives, of the conference set
The conference will take on a new "minimalist" look
The Conservatives are promising a new style of party conference which will be more "open and accessible".

With a minimalist set and speakers from outside politics, the party says the conference will be better able to focus on the public service issues which concern voters.

We recognise that people are tired of yah-boo politics

Theresa May
Conservative chairman
Tory members will be able to record their own video contributions to be played out in the main conference hall when the event gets under way in Bournemouth next month.

Unveiling the conference plans, Conservative chairman Theresa May said the new-look meeting reflected a desire to involve as many people as possible.

'Busy lives'

To achieve that aim, the major speeches will start later and run into the early evening.

Tory officials say they recognise that people have busy lives in today's world and the new timetable will allow more people to attend without having to take days off work.

The initiative will also free up shadow ministers to visit local schools and hospitals each morning.

Iain Duncan Smith and his wife, Betsy, at last year's party conference
Iain Duncan Smith is underlining the need to "help the vulnerable"
Each day of the conference will centre around one theme, with an entire day for the first time devoted to debating how to improve public services like schools, hospitals and transport.

The second day will be entitled "helping the vulnerable" as the Tories continue their efforts to cultivate a more compassionate image.

As part of that drive, problems which do not usually feature strongly at Tory conferences, such as violence against women and poverty, will be debated.

First hand lessons

Helping young people to stay away from crime, as well as defence and the relationship between Europe and American will dominate the conference's third day under the banner of "Safer Britain, Safer World".

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith will make the traditional leader's speech, entitled "Leadership with a Purpose" on the final day.

Speakers from outside the party will also be telling Conservative members about their experience as frontline public service workers.

Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher at the 1998 conference
Heath and Thatcher looked uneasy on stage in 1998
Mrs May told a media conference on Monday: "We recognise that people are tired of yah-boo politics...

"People want to hear from those who have direct experience in public services because that informs good debate."

That willingness to listen to public service staff showed the Conservatives were "open minded" as they continue their policy rethink.

Policy rethink

Some Tory activists have become increasingly impatient that the party is not making significant headway against Labour in the opinion polls.

There is some frustration too that the party does not yet have detailed policy platforms.

But Mrs May cited recent plans to crackdown on disruptive schoolchildren as evidence of shadow ministers outlining the direction of policy.

"That process is an on-going process," she said. "It is not one where you just say: 'Here's the package in detail.'"

In a break from the past, only three speakers will sit on the main conference at any one time - in front of an electronic poster site with changing images.

Principal issues

Shadow cabinet ministers will sit in the audience rather than on the stage.

That will avoid the image created at one previous conference where Margaret Thatcher and Edward Heath sat uncomfortably alongside each other on the stage.

Like past conferences, participants will not have a vote in the debates.

But they will be able to film brief contributions through a new "video box", some of which will be screened each evening.

Mrs May played down suggestions that party members could not raise the issues they viewed as important.

"The message I get from people within the party is they believe it is very important that we focus on the issues of main concern to most people, putting public services very high up the agenda," she said.

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