Tory party to control choice of candidates

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The Conservative Party is poised to mimic Labour's central control over the choosing of parliamentary candidates in the next parliament, according to Central Office sources.

Brian Mawhinney, party chairman, is believed to be unhappy at the shortage of women candidates chosen in winnable seats and at the selection of some mavericks by local Tory associations, which guard their autonomy jealously.

Dr Mawhinney is expected to ask representatives of local Tories to re- examine the rules for choosing candidates after the election.

So far only four women have been selected in safe Tory seats, against more than 50 men.

Central Office has also been concerned about the number of ministerial advisers and other "professional politicians" being chosen.

Dr Mawhinney has discussed with Robin Hodgson, chairman of the National Union of Conservative Associations, tightening up the procedure for admitting hopefuls to the list of approved potential candidates.

Senior Central Office officials were unhappy with some people on the list, including John Kennedy, the candidate for the new Tory seat of Halesowen and Rowley Regis. Mr Kennedy, formerly John Gvozdenovic, has been an apologist for the Bosnian Serb cause and introduced Yugoslav- born Zoran Tancic to the former party chairman Jeremy Hanley. Mr Tancic's contributions to Tory funds have been the subject of an investigation by Dr Mawhinney.

A further option for change would be to stop local associations choosing one of their members if he or she is not on the approved list.

This would effectively give Central Office the same degree of control as does the Labour procedure, which requires endorsement by the party's National Executive.

Tory strategists regarded with envy Labour's ruthless control of candidate selection, as demonstrated by the way Liz Davies, a member of the editorial board of the hard-left Labour Briefing, was forced to stand down as candidate for Leeds North-east.

But Dr Mawhinney is strongly resisting plans put forward by the National Union for local associations to have a greater say in the election of the party leader. At present, only Tory MPs have a vote in leadership elections. The National Union is trying to respond to growing pressure from the grassroots for a direct say.