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Last Updated: Monday, 23 May, 2005, 18:25 GMT 19:25 UK
Tories agree leader election plan
Michael Howard, pictured after announcing his intention to stand down
Howard: Will stand down within months
Senior Conservatives have unanimously agreed proposals that would change the way the party's leader is chosen.

Under the plans, Tory MPs would get back the final say in the selection of Michael Howard's replacement.

The party's board backed a new constitution, and the shadow cabinet and MPs will consider it on Tuesday.

For the first time the constitution would include a statement of Tory beliefs, including a commitment to serving the entire nation.

Lengthy consultation

The commitment would be made regardless of ethnic background, sex or religion.

Full details of the proposed constitution, agreed at Tory HQ in Westminster, will be published on Wednesday.

The board brings together leading members of the party's voluntary, political and professional wings, and a lengthy consultation process with the Tory rank and file is expected to last until September.

We need to go much further and to reach out to every community in the country
Francis Maude
It is understood any MP could stand for the leadership with the support of 10% of his or her parliamentary colleagues. The party's national Convention would vote on the candidates, but MPs would make the final decision.

Party chairman Francis Maude said: "The party has made enormous progress in the last year, but we know we need to go much further and to reach out to every community in the country.

"We have a simple ambition, which is that we become a party that genuinely can represent all Britain and all Britons."

MPs' concern

Mr Maude said the party had never set out its values before, committing it to "serving the entire nation".

The plans may be opposed by some of the party grass roots, who chose the leader for the first time in Conservative history in a ballot of all members in 2001. The system elected Iain Duncan Smith, and remains in place.

Although popular on the ground, many MPs were concerned that it could result in a leader that did not have the support of the parliamentary party.

Party sources said the proposed constitution would also include changes to strengthen local Conservative associations, such as the creation of an executive committee, and allowing neighbouring associations to combine.

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