Cameron woos 'political virgins'

Tories launch campaign to recruit new generation of female activists as polls show Labour losing trust of women voters
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Indy Politics

The women, most of whom have not previously been involved in politics, are to be mentored by senior figures in the Conservative Party. They will reinforce Mr Cameron's existing "A-list" of female candidates drawn up to fight target seats.

A road-show of Women2Win seminars in London, Birmingham and Manchester has since January signed up about 100 women, including ethnic minority teachers, anti-poverty campaigners and businesswomen.

Anne Jenkin, who runs by Women2Win, says the aim is to help women with no experience of active politics succeed in the party. The women will be encouraged not only to become Tory candidates but also to pursue important roles in the party as political advisers, council leaders and quango chiefs.

"Women2Win's primary role is to explain the business of getting there. These are new people coming through - 100 new women who have been introduced through the seminars. When you get into government you don't just need Members of Parliament; you need people to go on quangos and perform other roles such as advisers," she said. "We have got enormous numbers of women who are prepared to help the political virgins."

Among those who have been lined up to advise the new recruits are Virginia Bottomley, the former health secretary, who hosted the last Women2Win seminar in her office.

Bernard Jenkin MP, the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party who is responsible for candidates, said he was encouraged by the "high calibre" of women being introduced in the seminars, which are being run by his wife. "The whole idiom of politics in the Conservative Party has shifted," he said.

The initiative will unnerve the Labour Party which this week saw the first evidence that women voters are shifting from Labour to the Conservatives. An ICM poll this week found that 39 per cent of women supported the Tories compared to 32 per cent for Labour.

It showed the Tories are making inroads into traditional Labour territory on health and education - the key issues for women voters at elections.

The poll has led Harriet Harman MP, the constitutional affairs minister, to warn that Labour must work harder to retain the support of women voters.

Hazel Blears, the new Labour Party chairman, will this weekend start to draw up proposals to appeal to working-class women voters who form the core base of support for the party.

Labour privately believes that Mr Cameron's decision to promote women on the A-list of candidates has made an impact with female voters.

The A-list, which has just been sent out to target seats, includes 50 per cent women, including Priti Patel, a PR executive and former press secretary to William Hague who grew up in South Harrow and Ruislip after her parents emigrated to Britain from Uganda.

Mr Cameron has also been praised by Labour for promoting the new intake of women MPs including Justine Greening, MP for Putney, who has been made vice-chairman of the Tory party responsible for youth.

"Women respond to Cameron because he is positive and not a doom-and-gloom merchant," she said. "He appeals to women as caring and a listener - not a natural shouter."

Fast Track: The A-list in full

Carolyn Abbot; Tariq Ahmad; Amar Ahmed; Clive Allen; Louise Bagshawe (author); Harriet Baldwin; Steve Barclay; Gavin Barwell; James Bethell (Ministry of Sound co-founder); Nicholas Boles; Karen Bradley; Angie Bray; Steve Brine; Fiona Bruce (Small Businesswoman of the Year 2003); Sharon Buckle; Dr David Bull; Conor Burns; Martin Callanan MEP; Pam Chesters; Damian Collins; Tim Collins (former Tory MP); Mark Coote; Peter Cox; Caroline Dinenage; Antonia Dunn; Jane Ellison; Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones (Entrepreneur of the Year at the Black Enterprise Awards 2005); Dr Richard Evans; Suella Fernandes; Howard Flight (former MP); Vicky Ford; Jackie Foster (former MEP); George Freeman; David Gold; Zac Goldsmith (co-chair of the Environment Policy Group); Ashley Gray; Andrew Griffith; Andrew Griffiths; Laetitia Gunn; Sam Gyimah (CBI Entrepreneur of the Future 2005); Hannah Hall; Rebecca Harris (special adviser to Tim Yeo MP); Chris Heaton-Harris MEP; Kay Hemmings; Pippa Hill (ex-publisher); Kevin Hollinrake (Yorkshire estate agent); Kim Humphreys; Maria Hutchings (disabled rights champion); Margot James (Tory vice-chairman); Syed Kamall MEP; Fiona Kemp; Pauline Latham; Andrea Leadsom; Phillip Lee; Brandon Lewis; Katy Lindsay; Alan Lockwood; Jack LoPresti ; Dorothy Luckhurst; Kit Malthouse (former deputy leader of Westminster Council); Julia Manning; Paul Maynard (adviser to Liam Fox); Cordelia McCartney; Anne McIntosh MP; Amanda McLean; Melanie McLean; Esther McVey (businesswoman and former broadcaster); Mark Menzies; Jeremy Middleton; Ali Miraj; Emma Moffett; Julie Moody; Wendy Morton; Beverley Nielsen (recent Midlands Businesswoman of the Year); Hannah Parker; Priti Patel; Mark Pawsey; Andrew Percy; Maggie Punyer; Kulveer Ranger; Adam Rickitt (actor and singer); Caroline Righton; Alexandra Robson; Julie Rook; Amber Rudd (chair of Travel Intelligence); Laura Sandys (chair of OpenDemocracy); Jane Scott (leader of Wiltshire County Council); Lucy Shersby; Pamela SingletonAnna Soubry; Jason Steen; Andrew Stephenson; Mel Stride (social entrepreneur); Philippa Stroud (director of the Centre for Social Justice); Judith Symes; Elizabeth Truss; Simon Walker (member of John Major's Downing Street Policy Unit); Sayeeda Warsi (Tory vice-chairman); Heather Wheeler; Susan Williams (leader of Trafford Council)