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Last Updated: Friday, 9 December 2005, 13:41 GMT
Tories to scrap annual conference
Conservative members at a part conference
Only retired people can attend weekday conferences, says Mr Maude
The Tories say they are scrapping their traditional week-long seaside conferences as they are only attended by "fanatics" and retired people.

Party chairman Francis Maude says he wants to make it easier for young working people to attend conferences.

Instead of an event held on weekdays, he wants two weekend mini-conferences in cities such as Newcastle and Bath.

Labour will break with the seaside tradition next year by decamping to Manchester.

End of the pier?

It could mean the end of Blackpool's traditional place as a party conference venue.

The town hosted this year's Lib Dem and Conservative conferences. It hosted the first Tory conference in 1931 and its position as a Labour venue dates back to 1917.

But the Lib Dems have said they will not return to the resort in the foreseeable future.

A multi-million pound redevelopment planned for Blackpool's Winter Gardens may, however, draw the parties back.

Mr Maude told the Daily Telegraph: "Having a party conference that only takes place on weekdays means that the only people who can come are the people who are paid to or who are retired or who are independently rich or who are fanatics.

"Party conferences should be much more accessible for young working people."

Some regular conference visitors say the week-long stays are becoming too expensive.

Recruiting drive

Jean Searle, a former president of the Conservative National Convention who organised the 2001 conference in Blackpool, said it was time to change.

"The party has to move forward, we have got to change," she told BBC News.

"I would be disappointed to see the end of party conferences as they were at the seaside but we have got to modernise. We no longer feel that Blackpool is the right place for a modern party."

Ms Searle said she was delighted conferences would still be held in northern England and holding them at weekends would make them more suitable for working people.

The idea was also welcomed by John Strafford, from the Campaign for Conservative Democracy.

But he said recent conferences - apart from this year's event in the midst of the leadership election - had been "all froth" and little real debate.

"Let's have proper conferences, let's have genuine discussions and debate," he said, with party members given longer to speak.

Recruiting drive

Mr Maude is also thought to be looking at the idea of establishing an A-list of potential parliamentary candidates, half of whom would be women.

He said: "We need a significantly higher number of women in the seats we're going to win. We're not going to solve it all in one day but we need to signal it's a main priority."

The Tory chairman also believes the Tories will seek to co-operate with Labour on health, pensions and welfare. Mr Cameron has already offered to work with Labour on its plans to reform education.

Mr Maude said: "I don't see any areas on which consensus cannot be reached.

"It depends what they say. We're not going to go along with any old rubbish, we'll have serious principled positions.

"But if we can work with people in other parties to get the right answer for the country, we'll do that."

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