PERSPECTIVE : Thoroughly Modern Maude Comes Clean; the Conservative Party Must Get out of London and Discover How to Appeal to Modern Britain, Tory Chairman Francis Maude Tells Chief Reporter Paul Dale
Byline: Francis Maude
Francis Maude is looking a lot cooler than the last time we met.
Nine years ago he was shadow Chancellor during William Hague's short-lived leadership of the Conservative Party, and dressed accordingly. Pin-striped city suits and sombre ties were his stock in trade.
That was then. Now, a week into David "Dave" Cameron's reign as Tory leader, Mr Maude has chilled out.
He is in Birmingham for the first meeting of the shadow Cabinet under Mr Cameron's chairmanship and he is dressed in loafers, a casual jacket, deep-blue shirt unbuttoned at the neck where a sparkling white T-shirt peeps through . . . and no tie.
Hang on a minute. When did the chairman of the Conservative Party last attend the shadow Cabinet in casual attire? Possibly in Alec Douglas Home's days when August meetings were held in a country mansion adjacent to grouse moors if they were held at all.
Something is clearly going on here.
I half expect him to say "call me Frankie", but he does not.
Instead, he fudges a question about the lack of a tie.
"Oh, no. I'm not trying to make a fashion statement. I just forgot to put one on this morning."
Yeah, OK Francis, I believe you.
He is keen to promote Mr Cameron's modernising agenda, proof of which he says is demonstrated by the symbolic decision to bring the shadow Cabinet to Birmingham - where the city council is of course Conservative-led.
Mr Maude freely admits that the Conservatives, described in a moment of unusual candour as the nasty party by one of his predecessors, have to change and reach out to Britain as it is now, rather than Britain as it existed at some indeterminate time in the dim and distant past.
He said: "If we are not engaged in the great cities outside of London, if we are not engaged with the four million people in this country from black and minority ethnic backgrounds then we are not engaging with modern Britain. It is what you have to do if you are serious.
"We need to be a party that better reflects today's Britain. More diverse, more women, more ethnic minority candidates and MPs. Much like we are in local government where we have a lot of ethnic councillors.
"It is about being a party that understands and engages with modern Britain."
David Cameron has announced what amounts to a wholesale re-examination of Tory policy by setting up commissions to look into social justice, economic competitiveness, national security, public services and global poverty.
Mr Maude said: "We shall look at these issues in a very systematic and deep-seated way. It will involve talking with people from outside the ranks of the Conservative Party. We have to engage people from academia and community interest groups. …