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Challenge for Tory leadership

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Two senior Tories are going head-to-head for the leadership of the Local Government Association’s Conservative group.

East Sussex County Council leader Peter Jones, whom David Shakespeare defeated in the race to succeed Margaret Eaton in 2008, said he wanted to bring a “radical change” to the way the LGA operates and how Conservative councils are perceived by Tory MPs.

“We have got to accept the coming of a Conservative government and prepare for that,” he said.

“Frankly we need much more effective engagement by Conservative local government through the LGA. We need a team that is respected by parliamentary colleagues and can hold them to account.”

Although Cllr Jones refused to criticise Cllr Shakespeare, he said: “David ran last year on a consolidation agenda but I don’t think we live in a world of consolidation. We live in a world of radical change.

“I hope I could bring some credibility as to why the party would want to work with Conservative local government and help them craft the details of their agenda so it doesn’t cause local government undue difficulty.”

He also said significant internal changes would be needed at the LGA, with eight councils handing in theirnotice to leave. These included the organisation operating on a lower budget and major projects handed over to groups of councils to run.

“To some extent the LGA is a creature of the New Labour era,” Cllr Jones added. “But the world is changing.”

The results of a ballot of Tory council and group leaders will be known in June 2009.

The LGA has made a concerted effort to improve its relations with the Conservative front bench, which hit a low last year when former shadow communities secretary Eric Pickles wrote to Tory councils warning them against moving to fortnightly bin collections.

Things have since improved, with Cllr Margaret Eaton, now LGA chairman, invited to brief the shadow cabinet last week.

Christina Dykes, a special adviser to shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve, has been contracted to provide pregeneral election political advice to the association.

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