Cameron to change candidate choice in drive for diversity

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Indy Politics

David Cameron is to shake up the system for choosing Tory parliamentary candidates to ensure more local men and women and fewer "carpetbaggers" from London are selected.

The Tory leader will propose that his party's constituency associations be given powers to include local people on their final shortlist of candidates even if they are not on the elite "A-list" aimed at ensuring more women are selected. He hopes the changes will mean more people from different backgrounds will come forward.

Mr Cameron is anxious to stage a recovery in areas such as the North to boost the Tories' prospects of winning the next general election. He is pleased that 43 women have already been chosen in 107 of the most winnable seats but now wants to step up his drive to change the public face of his party.

Critics have claimed that the A-list is too "London-centric" and contains many high-fliers from the capital. "We've got too many carpetbaggers and lawyers from London," one Tory source admitted. "We want people with strong local links to fight seats and give us a stronger regional voice."

Next week, Mr Cameron and Don Porter, who chairs the party's board, will recommend that the board changes the rules so that in all future selections, the final shortlist would include two men and two women.

That would close a loophole under which some associations have put three or four men on the final list after holding an "open primary" in which anyone on the electoral register can vote even if they are not a Tory member.

Anyone on the Tories' wider candidates' list but not on the A-list would be allowed to apply for seats to make it easier for associations to choose people living in the area or with strong local links. The move will help candidates who felt aggrieved a being left off the A-list. One Tory official said: "The priority list has certainly worked in terms of getting more women candidates selected. But the criticism is that there has been a lack of regional diversity and a lack of diversity in background.

"The priority for the next tranche of target seats is to get more regional diversity and many more local candidates or people with links to a region. We should be fielding candidates with links to the North-west in winnable North-west seats and it is much better to have someone who is working in the West Midlands to fight Birmingham target seats."

The change could also increase the prospects of more blacks and Asians being selected. Mr Cameron admitted progress on that front had been "disappointing" after only three of the first 96 associations to choose opted for someone from the ethnic minorities.

Last week, the Tories set up a board in the North, chaired by the shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague, in an attempt to fight back. Although they control 18 North councils, they have no councillors in Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.

Mr Cameron admitted that the party needed to tackle its "underperformance" in the North. "We can never aspire to office unless we represent communities in every part of Britain," he said.