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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
A new type of Tory candidate?
Interview
By Ollie Stone-Lee
BBC News political reporter

Maria Hutchings
Mrs Hutchings says she is an "Essex girl through and through"

Maria Hutchings has already ambushed Tony Blair on live television. Now the mother of an autistic son wants the chance to take him on in the House of Commons.

And her chances have just been boosted by news that she has made it onto the list of elite hopefuls from which local Tories in winnable seats will be expected to choose their candidates.

"I'm elated," says the 44-year-old from Benfleet, Essex. "It's a wonderful piece of news.

"I hope there is a by-election and I get that seat so I can stand opposite Tony Blair in Parliament before he goes."

"I want to show him that I'm on my way in and I'm going to make a contribution to the kind of world I want to see while he's on his way out."

'Changing'

More than half of the A-list are women and 10% are from ethnic minorities as Tory leader David Cameron tries to make his party more representative of modern Britain.

Mrs Hutchings believes she has the ability to be a first class MP whatever the selection process but as an "Essex girl through and through" and proud of it, she is a change from the stereotypical white middle-class male candidate.

"I'm from a pretty working class background and I'm absolutely delighted because I think the party is definitely changing," she says.

David Cameron with women councillors
David Cameron says he wants to change his party

"We have snatched the social justice agenda from under the Labour Party's feet."

If she is selected to fight the election and survives trial by ballot box, it really will mean her confrontation with the prime minister on Channel 5's Wright Stuff has turned her life upside down.

One of the highlights of last year's election campaign was Mr Blair eagerly trying to calm down Mrs Hutchings as she advanced towards him on the morning chat show carrying a photo of her autistic son John Paul.

"I was just so fired up and emotional because of all the emotions of the last eight years just welling up," she says.

The lifetime Labour supporter had been full of hope when she saw Tony Blair enter Downing Street in 1997 - she saw echoes of the JFK era in 1960s America.

She lost faith because of closures of special schools and the struggle to get speech and language therapy for her son.

And she could not believe the response to the way she berated the prime minister, with national newspaper journalists queuing up to talk to her.

Schools campaign

Her conversion to the Tory cause came after she found the party sympathetic to her campaign, inviting her to a news conference where she met then leader Michael Howard.

While Mrs Hutchings asked if he had seen Rory Bremner's latest sketch about him, he asked if she would consider working for the party or becoming a candidate.

Since then she has been appointed to a Tory policy group looking at reform of public services.

And she is continuing her campaign against the closure of good special schools.

There should be a range of provision so children with special needs can be educated in mainstream schools if appropriate and if their parents wish, but do not have to be.

"If Tony Blair wants to talk about choice in education we are the most marginalised group," she says.

Care fears

Mrs Hutchings argues there should be no "enforced inclusion" of children with special needs in the classroom but is looking at how different children could instead mix together-in after school clubs and holiday facilities.

In a new twist for her campaigning, she is also calling for more respite care for people with special needs.

"I'm lucky to have a supportive family but there is a massive amount of people who are suffering to the point of despair because the money is not going into it," she adds.

If the prime minister does face Mrs Hutchings again, he's clearly going to have a lot of questions to answer.




SEE ALSO:
Cameron's bid to woo women voters
13 Mar 06 |  UK Politics
Soap star joins Tory elite list
10 May 06 |  UK Politics
Mother tackles Blair over autism
16 Feb 05 |  Education
Mother challenges Tory councils
19 Mar 05 |  Education



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