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EDITIONS
Saturday, 5 October, 2002, 22:03 GMT 23:03 UK
Quotas an option for Tories - May
Theresa May
Mrs May is the party's first female chairman

Theresa May has refused to rule out imposing a minimum number of woman candidates on local constituency parties for selection as MPs.

In a pre-conference interview with BBC News Online, the Tory chairman said initial efforts to broaden the party's appeal had gone well.


What I have spoken about in the past is having a 50-50 split on a candidates list for a certain number of seats, a 50-50 gender split

Theresa May
And she said she was anxious not to dictate to local constituency chairmen.

But, she added, it was "very important that we show that we are for all people in the country and that means being more representative in our candidates".

'Monitoring the situation'

Mrs May told BBC News Online: "What I have spoken about in the past is having a 50-50 split on a candidates list for a certain number of seats, a 50-50 gender split, with obviously a good number of ethnic minority candidates throughout that.

"We have been making some progress with what we are doing so far.

"But obviously we will continue to monitor the situation."

'Local issues'

Mrs May also spoke of the need for the Tories to regain their campaigning edge.

"When you are in government for 18 years, it's natural that that desire to be campaigning loses its edge.

"And I think it's important that we rebuild that."

She said she wanted to bring a "culture of campaigning" to the party's grassroots.

And she urged party activists to become involved in "local issues", such as schools and hospitals "at a local level".

Lib Dem lessons

Asked if activists could learn anything from the Liberal Democrats, who have specialised in targeting Tory seats in this way, she said: "I am always willing to look at other political parties.


There are certainly elements there that are not traditional Conservative Party conference issues

Theresa May
"But I think the key thing is to do it in a way that works for us.

"I am not in the business of saying 'they're doing it like that, let's just do it like that'."

Mrs May became the party's first female chairman three months ago following the controversial sacking of David Davis.

She has been at the forefront of leader Iain Duncan Smith's campaign to present a more modern, inclusive image.

Next week's party conference will see a host of innovations such as a video box, a high-tech stage set and even a "chill-out zone" designed to appeal to a younger audience.

'Real issues'

The party has also invited outside speakers for the first time brief members on reforming the public services.

Sessions on issues such as "domestic violence" and "world poverty", also mark a break with tradition.

But how will all this go down with the party faithful?

"There are certainly elements there that are not traditional Conservative Party conference issues", Mrs May says.

"But these are real issues that people are coping with and that's why we are focusing on them."

'Grown-up politics'

Unlike some senior Tories, Mrs May does not look with envy at Tony Blair's early 1990s battle to scrap Labour's Clause 4 commitment to nationalisation.

She does not believe Mr Duncan Smith needs a big, symbolic fight to fire up the troops and make a decisive break with past orthodoxies.

"I don't think that's necessary. I would hope that people would be able to see that by the issues we are focusing on, by the tone in which we are talking about things, the language we are using," she said.

She cites Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin, who has publicly backed David Blunkett on issues such as anti-terror legislation and immigration, as an example of this new "grown-up" politics in action.

She said: "If we agree with what the government is saying we say so.

"Where we don't agree, we point out where we don't agree and why they have got it wrong."

Section 28

Mrs May is thought to be strongly in favour of scrapping Section 28, the controversial Tory-conceived legislation banning the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities.

Some have argued this issue would provide the Tories with a ready-made opportunity to demonstrate their new-found liberal credentials.

But Mrs May refuses to be drawn on the subject saying it is a "matter for the government".

"For us as a party, the key thing is to be focusing on the issues that matter most to most people.

"And the issues people say are of most concern to them today, are Labour's failure at public services and it's not just the crumbling transport system, it's the problems in the hospitals, it's failing schools, it's rising crime."

'Politics unplugged'

One issue she is ready to discuss is the party's ageing membership profile.

She points to recent Tory initiatives such as "politics unplugged", which saw senior party figures touring university campuses, as an example of attempts to drum up youth interest.

But she acknowledges the Tories - like all political parties - have lost out to single issue campaigns and special interest groups such as The Countryside Alliance or the fuel protesters.

And with a nod to her own younger days, when the Young Conservatives was "the social thing to go to", she claims "young people have a lot more calls on their time these days".

"There are a lot of other things they can be doing."

Political parties had to "work harder at showing young people the importance of being involved in politics, the benefits it can bring and the enjoyment to be had from it".


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