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Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2006, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
A-list 'not snubbing' NE England
David Cameron
Mr Cameron was speaking on a visit to Nissan's factory in Sunderland
It was "nonsense" to suggest candidates on the Conservatives' elite A-list are failing to apply for seats in north-east England, David Cameron says.

Tory MP Edward Leigh claimed "only one or two men" were putting themselves forward there, and also suggested the list should include more women.

He said it could be that many people felt they were too good for the region.

But Mr Cameron insisted the seats had not yet been advertised and he was sure "very good candidates" would emerge.

This year, Conservative activists in winnable seats have been urged to choose candidates from the A-list.

But some local Tory associations have complained that those on the list were not applying to stand in their seats.

'Single figures'

Mr Leigh, who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, outlined his concerns in a letter to the Daily Telegraph.

"It has come to my attention that a number of key northern marginal seats are receiving very few applications from the A-list of Conservative candidates," he wrote.

"Sometimes total applications are down to single figures. In some cases, only one or two men are applying for seats on which the fate of the country will turn.

Edward Leigh
Could it be that the few men who get on the A-list think themselves so brilliant that they are above standing for a northern marginal, especially as so many of them come from London's political elite?
Conservative MP Edward Leigh

"You might think it a disaster that so few have applied.

"In fact, hundreds of people on the 'approved' list have been prevented from applying, in large part because they are the wrong sex," the Gainsborough MP said.

"This is blighting careers, discouraging activists and is contrary to natural justice. It cannot be right that talented people are excluded from Parliament in this way. We need them for government."

He went on: "Could it be that the few men who get on the A-list think themselves so brilliant that they are above standing for a northern marginal, especially as so many of them come from London's political elite?"

But his party leader was adamant there was no such problem.

"We have not advertised seats in the north-east in terms of selecting candidates. To say that people have not applied is a nonsense," Mr Cameron said.

"We have a lot of very talented Conservatives and I'm absolutely confident that top quality candidates will come forward."


He added that he did not believe in "naming targets".

"What we want to do is have a recovery right across the north-east and get the Conservatives back into cities like Sunderland," he said on a visit to the Nissan car plant there.

At the Conservative conference earlier this month, Alan Duncan, the shadow trade secretary, made a gaffe by referring to Tyneside as a city rather than an area of north-east England.

"A few months ago David Cameron said everyone in the shadow cabinet will also have a city," Mr Duncan told BBC Two's Daily Politics programme.

"I've got Tyneside and I've been up there a few times and I absolutely love it, and I'm going to really concentrate on it in the next few months."

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