David Cameron should avoid having an “ethnic beauty contest” when selecting parliamentary candidates for the next general election, according to one of his MPs.
Mark Pritchard MP said that it was “patronising” and “politically naïve” to assume that adopting more ethnic candidates would mean “that Asian and Afro-Caribbean voters across Britain will experience some sort of ‘political epiphany’ and suddenly begin voting Conservative”.
Mr Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin, said the party risks putting itself “on a collision course with Conservative associations” if it prioritises ethnic minorities over equally capable white British prospective candidates to fight the next general election, expected in 2015.
Mr Pritchard, a former officer of the influential 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs, said: “Any outside interference is rightly and fiercely resisted. Number 10 must learn the lessons from the failed ‘A list’ experiment.”
His call may be seen as a rebuke to David Cameron, who has called for more action to build support for the party among black and Asian voters, with MPs and candidates getting advice from Tory HQ on how to engage with different communities.
The party dropped the ‘A-list’ designed to encourage more women and ethnic minority candidates at the end of last year, with co-chairman Grant Shapps saying the Conservatives had “crossed the Rubicon” in selecting more diverse candidates.
Writing on the Politicshome.com website, Mr Pritchard said he wanted to see a trend which saw the number of ethnic Tory candidates increase from two to 11 between the 2005 and 2010 general elections.
But he said it was vital that the final decision on whether to adopt a candidate to fight a seat was left to the local constituency association.
He said: “The final choice of Parliamentary candidates should be for Conservative Associations alone.
“It would be misguided if the Party hierarchy were again tempted to set itself on a collision course with Conservative Associations by attempting to fast-track favoured ethnic minority candidates over equally talented white-British candidates.
“Conservative Associations rightly value their independence and ‘right to choose’ their prospective parliamentary candidates.
“Any outside interference is rightly and fiercely resisted. Number 10 must learn the lessons from the failed ‘A list’ experiment.”
Mr Pritchard added that it was “politically naive to think that by merely increasing ethnic representation within the Parliamentary Party and rushing to diversify the ethnicity of government Ministers that Asian and Afro-Caribbean voters across Britain will experience some sort of ‘political epiphany’ and suddenly begin voting Conservative”.
He added: “It is also patronising. I never met anyone on any doorstep from any ethnic group who has said they were more likely to vote Conservative if they saw more Black or Asian faces sat on Conservative benches.
“The Conservative Party needs to communicate in the social and economic languages of Britain’s ethnic minorities not fret about learning a myriad of mother tongues.”
Mr Pritchard said that “tokenism” was politically lazy and “the majority of the electorate still rightly place more value on the calibre of a candidate rather than the colour of a candidate.
“Most want a candidate who share their values and are willing to fight their corner—irrespective of gender, race, or religion.
“In reality voters from all ethnic backgrounds mostly share the same ‘needs and wants’ as one another. Their primary concerns are keeping a roof over their heads, putting food on the table, a safe neighbourhood, decent schools, and the prospect of a more prosperous future.
“The Conservative Party must not embark on an ethnic beauty parade but instead showcase trans-community principles and policies that unite the nation, appeal across every ethnic group, irrespective of background, religion, North South geography, gender, or income.
“This is true One Nation conservatism; inclusive, binding, cohesive, no one left behind; the British Dream, real equality.”
He continued: “Like the majority, Britain’s ethnic minorities want to support a Conservative Party that champions the hope that their tomorrow can be better than their today, that their children’s future will be more prosperous and secure than their own, and that talent always triumphs over tokenism.
“They want Conservative policies that reach out to people’s hearts and minds, that enthuse and inspire them, and a Party of values not transient vanities.
“The Conservative Party needs to continue to modernise—but in changing its practices it must not jettison its long-proven principles.”
A spokesman for the Conservative Party declined to comment on Mr Pritchard’s remarks. A Conservative source said: “The Conservative Party has to be representative of modern Britain.”