TORY leader David Cameron last night admitted a shock by-election result that saw the Conservatives poll fewer votes than the BNP in Sefton last week had "depressed" him.

Mr Cameron will be in Merseyside with his entire shadow cabinet today to unveil plans to win back inner city votes with the launch of an urban regeneration task force.

He will announce the think tank will be headed by Michael Heseltine, the former Minister for Merseyside, in an effort to dispel the Tory's image as "the party of the leafy suburbs".

Merseyside has not returned a Conservative MP in the last three general elections.

Mr Cameron conceded winning votes in the region, particularly in Liverpool, would be a challenge. But he hoped developing stronger inner-city policies would boost the party's standing.

The Conservatives were beaten into fourth place by the far-right British National Party, which took 159 votes in Waterloo's Church ward, last Thursday.

Mr Cameron said: "The turnout was low at Waterloo. I loathe the BNP. The result depressed me.

"The Conservatives have done very badly in cities and I want to change that. We need exciting and compelling policies to do that and that is exactly why I am setting up a task force on urban regeneration.

"I also think we must be tough on crime, engage with the voluntary sector and ensure schools perform better.

"We need to get back in to cities but we can't change things overnight.

"I want us to use this time in opposition to do the groundwork. I feel regeneration is being done to us rather than for us and the task force will look at this.

"I will be meeting with people in the city to discuss regeneration while I'm in the city for the shadow cabinet meeting.

"The other shadow cabinet members will also be meeting people in the city after the meeting."

Mr Cameron is in the region as the shadow cabinet is meeting in the city today.

As environment secretary in Margaret Thatcher's government, former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine famously led the city's regeneration following the Toxteth riots of 1981.

The task force will look at large-scale urban regeneration and, in particular, at capital projects which might be undertaken by a future

Conservative government. But criticism about the party's image as white, middle-class and southern came from within its own ranks over the weekend.

Party chairman Francis Maude said: "We need to look more like modern Britain.

"Far too many Conservative MPs are like me: white, middle-class, English, based in the South East - identikit Tories. It's scandalous that, in Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle, we don't have a single Conservative councillor and in Liverpool we are not even in second place in any of those wards."

When asked if he thought Merseyside voters would identify with his privileged background, Mr Cameron said: "What matters is not where you come from, but where you aim to."