Page last updated at 09:23 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 10:23 UK

Widdecombe attacks MP selection

Ann Widdecombe
Miss Widdecombe is standing down at the next election

Tory MP Ann Widdecombe has said David Cameron's changes to the way candidates are selected will mean more "second-class citizens" in the Commons.

The former Home Office minister said her party leader's "A-list" to ensure more female and ethnic minority choices was "completely misguided".

"We have gone for category rather than ability," Miss Widdecombe added.

But the MP, who is standing down at the next election, told Total Politics that Mr Cameron was a "fantastic leader".

The Conservative Party's A-list, which Mr Cameron has described as "positive action", is aimed at getting more female and ethnic minority candidates.

'On merit'

The party leader has also said it is a "realistic aspiration" to give at least a third of ministerial jobs to women if the Tories take power.

Miss Widdecombe, who recently stood unsuccessfully to become Speaker of the Commons, said: "I think he's wrong. It's been well known for a long time that David and I have not agreed on candidate selection.

"I think he's a fantastic leader - he's winning. But all leaders get some things wrong and I think our approach - which hasn't just been David's - to candidate selection over the last few years has been completely misguided.

I'm all for more anythings as long as they get there on merit.
Ann Widdecombe

"We have gone for category rather than ability. We're looking for more women.

"I'm all for more women. I'm all for more members of the ethnic communities. I'm all for more anythings as long as they get there on merit.

"I believe, as a woman, that every woman in Parliament should be able to look every man from the prime minister downwards in the eye and to think she got there on exactly the same basis that he got there.

"And if she can't she's a second-class citizen. We're going to have a Conservative Party full of second-class citizens."

Miss Widdecombe, who is standing down as MP for Maidstone and The Weald, said the Tory candidate to replace her at the next election, Helen Grant, would have won the nomination on merit, regardless of her gender.

The party recently trialled an "open primary" to select its candidate for the seat of Totnes in Devon.

GP Sarah Wollaston was chosen after the party sent out 69,000 postal ballots to voters in the constituency, rather than limiting the decision to Conservative association members.

A Conservative Party spokesman said: "Under David Cameron, the Conservative Party has broadened the base of Conservative candidates, attracting highly talented people from a diverse range of backgrounds.

"We have also led the way in introducing open, democratic and transparent selection processes, including holding the UK's first open postal primary."



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