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Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 03:59 GMT 04:59 UK
Tories set for urban conference
David Cameron
Mr Cameron will also visit community projects in Manchester
David Cameron is preparing to make his first major speech as Tory leader, as the party gathers for its spring conference in Manchester.

The Conservatives hope the urban venue will emphasise Mr Cameron's vision of rebuilding the party in the big cities.

Lord Heseltine - picked by Mr Cameron to lead his cities task force - will make a keynote speech on Friday.

Ahead of the event, party chairman Francis Maude warned it faced an "uphill struggle" to regain power.

The BBC's political correspondent Mark Sanders said Mr Cameron was desperate to shed the Conservative image as the "party of the leafy suburbs".

Meanwhile Lord Heseltine, in his first conference speech for 10 years, will say that the Tories cannot ignore urban areas, which are traditionally hostile to the party.

He will add that the nation cannot be seen in terms of packages of voters - some to be cherished, others discarded because they vote another way, our correspondent says.

We are quite weak in many of the inner city areas - we don't have the campaign structures
Conservative spokesman

Mr Maude will also make a speech outlining the challenges ahead for the party.

In an interview with London's Evening Standard, Mr Maude said the party had to turn round two decades of "decline and paralysis".

"We are going to have to earn every foot of the ascent. We are all aware none of this is easy. We are trying to reverse what are actually 20 years of the decline and paralysis," said Mr Maude.

"You are not going to turn that round in a day and we have to reconcile ourselves to it being a long haul, and it's not being defeatist to say we may not win the next election. It's uphill, it's a long way to go and we cannot be deterred by that.

"Whether or not we win the election - and I hope we will, and I certainly believe we can - that's still only the beginning of the process. We still have a huge amount to show in terms of persuading the country we are capable of leading the country."

Lib Dem president Simon Hughes said Mr Maude's remarks were an admission that the Tory's "cosmetic conversion" was "failing to win over the British people".

He added: "On the environment, on education and on civil liberties, the Tories have been all talk and no action."

'Weak structures'

Mr Cameron is due to give his keynote speech on Saturday and will visit community projects in Manchester during the course of the spring conference weekend.

But despite the conference's urban focus, officials were playing down the prospect of significant gains in next month's local council elections in England.

"We are quite weak in many of the inner city areas. We don't have the campaign structures," a party spokesman said.

The party has no local councillors in Manchester or other major Northern cities such as Liverpool and Newcastle.

Meanwhile, an online survey of Conservative Party members suggests David Cameron's satisfaction rating is 78%, down from 82% in January.

Shadow foreign secretary and former leader William Hague has the highest satisfaction rating, of 86%, while Mr Maude was the least popular of the ten shadow cabinet members rated, with 22%.

The survey also revealed strong backing, at 86%, for Mr Cameron's Built to Last statement of values, setting out his vision of a more compassionate Conservatism.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The agenda for the Conservative conference



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