Young Tories face curb on influence: Party leaders meeting in Harrogate today are likely to make their first move against the YCs, writes Stephen Goodwin

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TORY leaders will take a first step in clipping the wings of the Young Conservatives today.

The national YCs still carry the torch for Baroness Thatcher's brand of politics and their right- wing rowdyism has been an embarrassment to the party. Last month the YCs' annual conference in Southend cheered as a branch chairman ripped up a copy of the Maastricht treaty.

A closed session of the Conservative Central Council in Harrogate is expected to endorse a plan that would cut the YCs' automatic representation at the party's annual conference and on key national committees.

YC membership has fallen from about 250,000 in the Fifties to some 10,000, according to the outgoing chairman Adrian McLellan. Moderates claim there are 4,327 registered members.

The YC leadership is disappointed at the move, but points to similar cuts in automatic seats for other groups, including the Conservative trade unionists. 'There is no plan to rock the boat at Harrogate,' Mr McLellan said.

Mr McLellan and his successor, Andrew Rosindell, are looking to the future of the YCs under the review being conducted by Sir Basil Feldman, chairman of the National Union, the ruling body of the voluntary side of the party.

Once the new rules on representation have been endorsed, Sir Basil intends to consult past and present YC leaders on more far- reaching changes. Pro-European Community moderates who were howled down at Southend have appealed to Sir Basil to 'suspend' the national organisation until it is restructured.

One course that could find favour with both Mr McLellan and John Procter, leader of the moderate faction, is to change the age limits. At present a YC can hold office up to the age of 30 and remain a member until 35. A maximum age of 25 with a separate grouping for 25- to 40-year-olds is being canvassed.

Mr Procter, a Leeds city councillor, said the lower age limit would wipe out the present 'old- style right-wing' leadership.

Mr McLellan said that 'nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out' in the review. He said he had spoken to Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, and John Major about the Southend conference and they were 'perfectly happy' about it. 'They believe we have a dynamic youth organisation. They see us as the next generation of party leaders.'

Mr Rosindell, aged 26, who will take over the YC chairmanship on 13 March, said: 'Youth groups in all parties tend to be slightly controversial.'

The Harrogate meeting is likely to be dominated by a motion attacking Sir Norman's refusal to give local constituencies a direct role on a new management board.