Non-Tories may get say in choosing candidates

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Indy Politics

People who are not members of the Conservative Party may help to select its candidates, under radical reforms to boost the number of Tory women and ethnic minority MPs.

David Cameron announced a "positive action" programme yesterday that stops short of the compulsory all-women shortlists used by Labour but should increase the proportion of female Tory MPs, who currently number only 17 out of 198. The new Conservative leader threatened to go further if grassroots Tories did not choose more women and ethnic minority candidates.

To show that the Tories are reaching out to the real world, local party associations in target and Tory-held seats will be urged to set up "community panels" of local groups, GPs, police, school governors and businesspeople to interview possible candidates and report back on their relative merits.

There could also be American-style primary elections in which registered Tory supporters - or even ordinary voters who are not Tories - could vote on a shortlist of candidates drawn up by the local association.

Winnable seats and Tory-held constituencies where the MP stands down will be asked to choose from a 140-strong list of "brightest and best" candidates drawn up by Tory headquarters. At least half those on it will be women and it will include "a significant proportion" of people with disabilities and from ethnic minority communities.

Speaking in Leeds, Mr Cameron said his proposals had "nothing to do with crude political calculation, or crazed political correctness" but were about "political effectiveness".

Playing down fears that he wants his so-called "Notting Hill set" of modernisers to take over the party, he said: "I want to make it clear that 'brightest and best' does not mean youngest and most metropolitan."

Today the Shadow Cabinet will travel to Birmingham for its first meeting since Mr Cameron's election as Tory leader. An aide said the decision to hold the session outside London "signals our intention to connect with the whole country".

But Mr Cameron faced further criticism over his decision to withdraw Tory MEPs from the main centre-right group in the European Parliament, which he regards as too federalist.

Writing in The Independent today, the former foreign secretary Lord Hurd of Westwell appeals to Mr Cameron to adopt a strategy of "positive scepticism" towards the EU. "We can benefit from close ties with like-minded politicians in Europe," he says.