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Last Updated: Monday, 4 December 2006, 12:50 GMT
A year on, has the A-list worked?
By Robin Brant
Political reporter, BBC News

David Cameron and members of the shadow cabinet in 2005
Mr Cameron pledged to change the way the Tories looked
Fewer white middle aged men, more women and more people from ethnic minorities.

That was the promise David Cameron made as he outlined his plan to change the Conservative party on the day he became leader almost a year ago.

The A list is the big idea. The aim is to fast track favoured candidates.

But 12 months into the process, the party is falling short of its aim.

In his first interview since getting the job last month, the Tory MP now in charge of candidates, John Maples, has admitted that they need to do better.

I accept that we need to do better than we're doing
John Maples

David Cameron spelled out his blueprint for making the Conservatives electable with these words: "Now that I've won we will change. We will change the way we look. Nine out of ten Conservative MPs are like me, white men."

With that the A list was born. The list is billed as the brightest and the best. The people whom David Cameron wants his associations to select as candidates for the next general election.

It has been controversial. Some associations are resisting what they see as strong arm tactics. They don't want an outsider drafted in. A year in, the signs are that this is hindering the big project.

'Very big step'

John Maples MP, who was promoted from the backbenches to become deputy chairman of the party, said: "I accept that we need to do better than we're doing, both with candidates from ethnic minorities and with women, and we will make sure that we do that.

"There are other things that we can do to help this process on its way."

But he said that he had thought he had a tougher job ahead: "I thought there would be more resistance out there to the idea of a woman or ethnic minority candidates being chosen."

John Maples
Mr Maples anticipated more resistance to the A list

"We were trying to go from, what is it, I forget, 17, I think, members of parliament - 7% or 8% at the moment - who are women.

"We were going to try to go to half of the next intake, that was a very very big step."

There's no official target but the aim is that the next wave of Tory MPs should reflect the society they seek to represent, so half should be women, around 10% from ethnic minorities.

So far just 3 of 84 candidates selected are black or Asian. That's around 2.5%.

'Racist attitudes'

Priti Patel is one of them. She was selected in the new constituency of Whitham in Essex last week, after a lengthy battle to make it to the top.

She said: "Change will come in time and recruiting more ethnic minority candidates and members will happen in due course - I've got every confidence that will happen. Once you've got those candidates in place, that is how you broaden your appeal."

Priti Patel's selection was a welcome boost for David Cameron's bid to 'change the way we look' but it's tinged with irony. Priti Patel was a fierce critic of the Conservatives in the past.

Priti Patel
Priti Patel had criticised Tory attitudes in the past

In 2003 she condemned the party, saying: "There are racist undertones and attitudes". Her outburst in the Financial Times included the claim that "racist attitudes do persist within the party."

Her success could be construed as proof of a sea change. But, still, she is only 1 of 3, out of 84 selected so far.

She went on to say: "I'm not saying that there isn't a problem, the issue is that we are being proactive around candidate selection.

"Any political party that wants to be fit for government and to win elections and to appeal to the broader public, you have to be proactive in your approach to candidate selection."

'Maverick' danger

The process of change is fragile. A senior Tory who was involved in implementing the A list has told me he fears a "maverick association" may engineer a confrontation with the leader.

He also admitted there was a chance that, in his words, it would "blow up in David's face."

Evidence of that may be found in Kent. Alan Sullivan is chairman of the Conservative Association in Chatham & Aylesford.

We're not going to be moved from choosing the right candidate for us
Alan Sullivan
Conservative Association, Chatham & Aylesford.
They have just selected a candidate - who by a happy coincidence is an A-lister and local - but before the process started, someone from the association went as far as advertising for local candidates to come forward, and choosing to single out A listers who didn't have good local knowledge.

"We are listening, we hear the message," he said. "But we have made it very clear and we are not going to be moved from that, and I don't want this to be to appear to be threatening, we're not going to be moved from choosing the right candidate for us.

"Now, as I say, we won't be influenced, whether it be female, male or ethnic minority."

The Conservative Party is a bottom-up organisation, with the power historically at the grassroots.

A change in its image has been rapid since David Cameron became leader, but on the eve of his first anniversary in the job it is clear that a change in the party's appearance will be a much more gradual process.

The promise was clear: "We will change the way we look". A year in the verdict from the leadership is clear: "Need to do better".


SEE ALSO
Jenkin axed in Cameron reshuffle
07 Nov 06 |  UK Politics
A-list 'not snubbing' NE England
20 Oct 06 |  UK Politics
Tories vow to learn over A-list
31 May 06 |  UK Politics
Should Tory men be afraid?
22 Aug 06 |  UK Politics
Cameron warned on Tory core vote
17 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
Tories 'failing to recruit women'
14 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
'Beautiful' Tory list under fire
05 Jun 06 |  UK Politics



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