When William Hague devised new rules for Conservative Party leadership elections in 1997 he could hardly have thought that the first time they would be brought into use would be to elect his successor. But that's politics! This new procedure is in two stages: first, the parliamentary party of MPs chooses two candidates from among the contenders; then the chosen two go into a secret ballot of 350'000 party members.

It sounds a fairly sensible arrangement but some of the rank-and-file of the party think it gives too much power to the MPs to make the all-important initial selection.

An organisation known as The Campaign for Conservative Democracy hopes to persuade the so-called 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs, which oversees these arrangements, to change the rules when it meets next week.

The Campaign wants the names of all candidates to be submitted directly to the membership without pre-selection by MPs; there is a feeling that MPs and grass roots members may not necessarily be in agreement on the kind of person who is best suited to lead the party and, perhaps, run the country.

A darling of the annual conference and the constituency membership - Ann Widdecombe might be an example - would not always be the preferred choice of the MPs.

It is not clear whether the 1922 Committee has the power to change rules which have never even been put to the test - or whether they would want to exercise the power if they have it. Given the over-riding need to get a new leader in the job before the party's October Conference there will probably be pressure to go ahead with the procedure already in place.

Ray Fleming