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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 August 2006, 08:45 GMT 09:45 UK
Should Tory men be afraid?
Feature
By Ollie Stone-Lee
Political reporter, BBC News

David Cameron with Tory women candidates on Monday
Mr Cameron posed with Karen Bradley (left) and other candidates
"I'm starting a counselling service for white, middle class Tory men," joked a woman Conservative as the party's first A-list was about to be announced.

It seemed white, male Tory hopefuls were quivering in their boots at the thought of this list of elite candidates designed to help get more women and people from ethnic minorities chosen to fight the next election.

And now those men might have more to worry about as David Cameron believes the first run of A-list candidates is not changing the party fast enough.

Critics of the process say Tory activists, who at the moment make the final choice of Parliamentary candidates from a shortlist drawn up by the local Tory association board, are still favouring men.

This may be because local activists believe the male A-list candidates presented to them must be truly exceptional to have overcome the in-built gender bias, it has been suggested.

'Horror'

Mr Cameron, for his part, insists he is pleased that the proportion of female candidates being chosen since he took over is three times the share of women Tory MPs, but he says he wants the changes to go faster.

While he does not like the idea of all-women shortlists, he has not ruled out taking that option when he reviews progress later in the year.

The latest measures, which include ensuring half of the candidates in the final short list are women, are already being met with resistance in some quarters.

I think anyone involved in an association or society for a long time tends to be resistant to change
Maggie Throup
Prospective candidate

Former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe has said giving women preferential treatment would mean they could "not look their male colleagues in the eye" and say they had crossed the same obstacles to get into Parliament.

Mid Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries warned: "It fills me with horror to think that after the next general election, people who meet me may think that I was selected in an undemocratic manner from an all female shortlist."

Wrong target?

There are also fears from some grass roots Tory activists that they will have even less control over the choice of candidates they will be expected to devote hours of their spare time campaigning for.

Under the new system unveiled this week by Mr Cameron, those activists will draw up the short list, with executive boards of local Tory associations having the final say - reversing the way the system operates at the moment, where activists have the final say.

Some will see that as a welcome way of involving the party's grass roots in the process earlier but others will complain they will not be making the final choice.

There are also fears the party leadership will exert pressure on the local Tory boards to select their favoured candidate - something denied by Mr Cameron.

John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, said Mr Cameron was wrong to focus on candidates.

"It's the present parliamentary party which is unrepresentative of the people," he said.

"If David Cameron really wanted to bite the bullet, what he'd do is call for a re-selection of all sitting Conservative MPs and go through that whole process."

Time to be heard

Such fears were dismissed by some of the women who have already succeeded in bagging a seat to contest at the next general election, some of whom posed with Mr Cameron as he announced the latest changes on Monday.

Karen Bradley, prospective parliamentary candidate for Staffordshire Moorlands, said: "All the A-list gave me was the opportunity to be seen and to be heard and after that I had to prove myself."

When trying to become a candidate in last year's general election, it had been hard to get an interview, she said.

Maggie Throup, who was selected as prospective candidate in Solihull before the A-list began, said all-women shortlists would be a step too far.

But the new measures were needed to make the Conservatives representative of the whole country, she said, explaining why she thought more women had not been chosen.

"I think anyone involved in an association or society for a long time tends to be resistant to change," she said.

And a thought for those worrying Tory men?

"If they are good candidates, they will get through as well."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
How selection procedures will change



SEE ALSO
Cameron warned on Tory core vote
17 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
Cameron's bid to woo women voters
13 Mar 06 |  UK Politics
A new type of Tory candidate?
10 May 06 |  UK Politics
Cameron aims for more women MPs
12 Dec 05 |  UK Politics

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