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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
Soap star joins Tory elite list
Adam Rickitt
Former soap star Adam Rickitt is among the Tory hopefuls
Conservative hopefuls are finding out whether they are on the party's list of elite candidates for winnable seats.

Ex-Coronation Street actor Adam Rickitt eco-campaigner Zac Goldsmith and author Louise Bagshawe are all on the A-list", the BBC understands.

Maria Hutchings, a mother who famously confronted Tony Blair on live television, also joins the elite group.

More than half of the 100 first names on the list are women and 10% are from ethnic minorities.

Local Tories in at least 200 of the most winnable seats will be expected to pick their candidates from the list.

That has provoked opposition from some Tory members, who say they want freedom over their choice of candidates and oppose any positive discrimination in the selection process.

Another tranche of the "best and brightest" candidates will join the list later in the year.

Political correctness?

The list is part of Conservative leader David Cameron's drive to "fix" the under-representation of women inside the party.

Mr Cameron insisted the move was not about image.

I am elated - it was a wonderful piece of news
Maria Hutchings
Mother who confronted Tony Blair on TV

"This is not about appearance, this is not about political correctness. It is about being more effective," he told reporters.

"I want to make sure the conversation the Conservative Party has in Parliament amongst itself is like the conversation we need to have with the rest of the country."

Mr Cameron accepted that some white middle class men would be disappointed not to be on the list.

But local parties would still have a say over their choice of candidate.

David Cameron with some of his new women councillors on Wednesday
Mr Cameron: Pictured with some new Tory women councillors

"There is no easy way of doing this," he said. "I don't support all-women shortlists because I think it is a step too far for a party that is meritocratic.

"But I know we have to deal with the problem of the under-representation of women in the Conservative Party. We have to take steps, I think these are the right steps, but inevitably it means difficult decisions for some people."

It is thought that about 40 constituencies will select their candidates for the next election in the next three months.

Officials at Conservative headquarters will then assess whether enough progress on selecting more women is being made.

John Strafford, from the Campaign for Conservative Democracy said he thought the A-list policy was an "absolute disaster", despite Mr Cameron doing an excellent job .

"We should be opening up the Conservative Party and anybody who wants to be a candidate should be a candidate, unless they are mad, bad or sad," he told BBC 2's Daily Politics.

Mr Strafford said he wanted a broad range of candidates, from window cleaners to firemen to professors.

But Julia Manning, one of the women on the new list, said the list would ensure local Tory associations would be able to choose from a diverse mix of candidates.

"They are not going to be presented with the stereotype," said Ms Manning, who unsuccessfully contested Bristol East at the last election.

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