Tories start series of 'primaries' to select candidates

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The Conservative Party will today embark on the first of a series of US-style primaries to choose a parliamentary candidate in a trial scheme designed to open up Tory selections to the public.

Conservatives in Warrington South, Cheshire, are to allow all local voters to have a say in choosing the party's next general election candidate.

The scheme was drawn up by Theresa May, the former party chairman, as a means of attracting more women, ethnic minorities and floating voters to the party.

The Tories have been stung by criticism that they are not open enough and that elderly volunteers in local parties have been blocking women and black candidates from being chosen to represent seats.

Warrington South is one of two constituencies where a pilot scheme is being run to try to open up selection and attract people who are not life-long Conservatives to the party.

Local Tories have shortlisted three candidates - Christopher Bromby, managing director of an investment company, Fiona Bruce, a local solicitor, and David Sutton, a "process operative" from Congleton - who will attend the public selection meeting tonight. They will make speeches and take questions from local people, who will then choose the person they like best to represent the Tories at the general election.

Last night a spokesman for the Tories in Warrington South, a Labour-held seat which the Conservatives have little chance of gaining at the next election, said the party wanted to "engage with the electorate in the way that we select our candidates".

"I think it will lead to greater diversity," he said.

The Warrington primary will be followed next Wednesday by Conservatives in Reading East, where local people will also be allowed to vote for their preferred candidate.

But this "closed primary" system will not allow Labour or Liberal Democrats to take part in the selection of the Tory candidate and will only be open to local supporters of the Conservative Party.

In other seats, serving members of Conservative constituency committees decide who will represent them locally.