Monday, May 16, 2005

On inclusivity

This post was provoked by the Simon Heffer piece in the Mail but has a much wider currency.

There is a lot of nonsense talked from diametrically opposite directions about the very real efforts the Conservative party has made to select a wider range of able candidates. This comes from two groups of people with mirror-image agendas.

The first group, most of whom are inclined towards New Labour and therefore have a vested interest in finding a stick to beat the Conservatives with, claim that there has been no significant change in the diversity of the Conservative candidate list. The second group, of which Simon Heffer is the arch example, criticise the attempt to promote women, gay, and ethnic minority candidates and all too frequently make the inaccurate charge that this is being done in a politically correct way regardless of the ability of the candidates concerned.

Obviously as someone who fought a seat for the Conservatives this time I cannot pretend to be entirely objective about the quality of the people on the list. Nevertheless, I can compare the fellow applicants I met while going round the country trying to find a seat with the candidates I met during the previous parliament as a constituency chairman, and the people I interviewed as a selection committee member the parliament before that. I do not know every single person who fought a seat this time. But I do know that, regardless of whether my own political career ever goes any further, I will be very proud for the rest of my life to have been selected to fight a seat as part of a team which included people of the quality of the other Conservative candidates I met.

To anyone who still thinks that the Conservative candidates were all male, straight, white, Tory boys, I would point out that we had more ethnic minority candidates than any other major party, two of them in very safe seats and several others in target seats (including an asian woman in Enoch Powell's old seat.) St Albans now has its first ever woman MP after the Conservatives regained the seat. At least five openly gay Conservatives were standing in safe or target seats, two of whom were elected.

However, to anyone who imagines that our female, ethnic minority, or gay candidates would not have deserved their places on grounds of ability and effort, I can only say that those I know were able, decent human beings all of whom worked extremely hard. And so were the straight, white, males. Those who were elected this time will make excellent MPs - and I hope those who were not will also get the chance to make good MPs after the next election.

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