Tuesday, 23 February 2010

New Tories, different colour, or am I prejudiced?

Following my previous post about the Tories disarray in East Surrey, the fact that they have chosen a black man of African origin has given me pause for thought. You see, shocking thing for a very liberal chap to own up to, I am prejudiced. I've always felt that there was an undercurrent of "only white, straight, chaps from the right background need apply" in the Tory party. This prejudice has now been sorely tested. Not only have the Tories selected Sam Gyimah for East Surrey, they have chosen Kwasi Kwarteng for Spelthorne. This along with Adam Afriye from Windsor means there are three people of colour in very winnable seats in the local area. Interestingly all these guys are of Ghanaian origin, the Guardian speculation (in the Diary, so tongue in cheek) is that it is coming to rival the Labour Guyanese "mafia".

In the recent past Labour has drawn much talent from what has been known as the Guyanese Mafia (David Lammy, Valerie Amos, Trevor Phillips, Lord Alli, Lord Ouseley). With the selection of Gyimah, Tories appear to be constructing a Ghanaian equivalent. Adam Afriyie, the son of a Ghanaian father, has already made it to the Commons via Windsor. Kwasi Kwarteng, whose parents are ­Ghanaian, has got the nod in Spelthorne, Surrey. And ­Gyimah, who some predict will make the cabinet someday, was born in the UK but grew up in Ghana. He returned at 16.
Shame there isn't a Lib Dem equivalent. It's another of the problems of our FPTP electoral system that makes it much harder for minorities to be elected.

Incidentally in that same Guardian piece, talking about East Surrey, Hugh Muir says
......it's bad, bad, bad for Tory sage and blogger extraordinaire Iain Dale, who lost out to Gyimah. We have already recorded his previous ­election setbacks. Norfolk North in 2005, when he lost by 10,500 votes, and his failure to win the nomination for Maidstone, when he didn't make it past the first interview. Explaining the latest reverse on the digital station Colourful Radio, he said: "These selection contests – they're a lot like The X Factor. There's a lot of pressure ... and I blew it. Normally, when I give a speech, I just think about what I'm going to say, then go in and say it. On this one I wrote out a full text and tried to memorise it. All the words came out, but not necessarily in the right order. It's a bit of a lottery, and it really depends on how you perform on the day – and I didn't perform, so I couldn't expect to win." He is being magnanimous. That's his way. But it is inexplicable, and we worry that there is something more to this.
The only thing I can think that Muir means by the last comment is that he believes Dale is failing because he is openly gay, and since then Dale has failed to get the nomination for Bracknell, the seat of that arch Cameronite trougher Andrew Mackay. It's difficult to judge on this one as there are openly gay Tory MPs like Alan Duncan and Nick Herbert, but my prejudice feels there's probably a good strain of homophobia still at the grass roots of the Tories. And racism? During the recent mayoral election in Bedford the Tories had a virtual civil war which had some barely disguised racist undertones. From Bedfordshire on Sunday (Mrs Attenborough was the Tory leader of the Council, and a candidate).....
But, in what might be read as a reference to the large number of people who attended from the Asian community, she says, in an email to Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles: ‘From where I was sitting, I could see the Liberal Democrats on the front row, Labour on the back row and a sea of faces who couldn’t even understand what the candidates were saying.’

Mr Parvez romped home on the first vote to enormous cheers at Dame Alice Harpur School, leaving supporters of his opponents stunned.

In Mrs Attenborough’s email, copied in to Tory chief David Cameron and leaked to Bedfordshire on Sunday, she says: ‘Exactly why should anyone become a member of the Conservative Party when they can walk off the streets into any selection meeting and choose the most unsuitable candidate, if they want, without knowing anything about them, or go to a meeting with the leader without having to pay £20 for the privilege.

‘It is my opinion that Monday night was quite disgraceful. The members, who had been told to get there by 7.30pm, were left sitting there for two hours and the candidates locked in one nasty classroom for two hours and told nothing.

‘When I protested at the shambles that was occurring outside, I was told by our minder, ‘you can always go home’.
This has echoes of the election in Cheltenham in 1992 when a local Tory called their then candidate "a bloody nigger". In both elections the Tory shambles led to a Lib Dem victory.

I am sure the Conservatives have moved on since those bad old days but how far?

Interestingly the Tories have not chosen any women for the safe seats in and around Surrey except for the incumbent Ann Milton in Guildford, despite the fact that there were senior women councillors involved in all of them, such as Lynne Hack, Sally Marks and Phillipa Broom. As it is, the Tories should significantly increase their number of women MPs but not in "safe" Surrey where it would have been absolutely logical for them to do so.

My wife is a wise lady. Discussing this issue with her she said it's not an issue of race, gender or sexuality but more "PLU". People like us. (She comes from a Tory background). She could be right. Kwarteng went to Eton and Gyimah worked for those agents of God Goldman Sachs.

My prejudice is definitely under threat and I hope that soon we will cease to worry about any of these things because all parties will just choose the best people from a list of excellent diverse candidates.

I think the Tories have moved from the party of Tomorrow Belongs To Me and are probably closer to Neil Kinnock making sure he mentions black people and nurses all the time.

As a footnote Spelthorne could be an interesting seat to watch at the election. Lots of interesting new dynamics, a disgraced incumbent Tory, an ethnic minority old Etonian Tory candidate, Labour collapse and Lib Dem rise in the county elections last year and a UKIP candidate to take a decent slice of the Tory vote. Could be set up nicely for the election after this!

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