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Last Updated: Monday, 12 December 2005, 14:21 GMT
Cameron aims for more women MPs
David Cameron at the London Wetland Centre
Mr Cameron has his sights set on greater diversity for the party
David Cameron has outlined plans for reforms to increase the number of women and ethnic minority Tory MPs.

The new Conservative leader wants a list of the brightest and best people put together, from which constituencies will be told to select their candidate.

Women will make up half the list and a "significant proportion" will be ethnic minority and disabled candidates.

Mr Cameron promised "further steps" if the moves fail to see a more diverse selection of candidates chosen.

'Not political correctness'

The proposals come as opinion polls in two Sunday newspapers suggest the Tories are now slightly ahead of Labour.

Mr Cameron says he believes he has a "clear mandate" for the reforms from Tory associations following his victory in the leadership election last week.

I want to make sure that at the next election we have a much better balance of men and women and members of the ethnic minorities and people with disabilities
David Cameron

"Until we're represented by men and women in the country, regardless of race or creed, we won't be half the party we could be," he said in a speech on candidate selection in Leeds.

He said his "positive action" plan was not about "crazed political correctness", but would guarantee more women and ethnic minorities in winnable seats.

It would also ensure a person's potential to be a good MP "is the only factor that counts" in being selected.

Candidate selections will be frozen from Monday "until we have established a system that guarantees increased diversity, fairness and meritocracy", he said.

But if after three months progress is not being made, "further action will be taken", he said.

Headhunting

Under the plans, candidates for seats that the Conservatives currently hold, or hope to win if they gain ground at the next election, will be selected from the list, except in exceptional circumstances.

HAVE YOUR SAY
There is a huge desire for change at all levels in the party
Bernard Jenkin
Deputy chairman for candidates

Women candidates "of all ages and backgrounds" will be headhunted and mentored. The Conservative Party has 17 female MPs.

Mr Cameron also launched an appeal to "every woman in Britain" and everyone from an ethnic minority background who shares his vision to apply to become a Conservative MP.

He will also kick start a recruitment campaign, backed by advertising. Local constituencies will be given help to change their selection processes so they use a "Question Time" style panel to test the full range of candidates' skills.

Tory-held and target seats will be told to bring in non-party members in the selection process.

'Transparent' list

This could involve community panels or US-style primaries in which anyone in a constituency registered as a party supporter will be able to select between a shortlist of candidates from the priority list picked by the local association.

Shadow Commons leader Theresa May, a key figure behind the Tory Women2Win campaign, which called for radical reforms of candidate selection to ensure more women MPs, has been appointed to the committee which draws up the priority list.

She will be joined by Bernard Jenkin, deputy chairman for candidates, to ensure the process is "open and transparent".




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David Cameron outlines plans for more women MPs



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