David Cameron has sacked the man in charge of ensuring more women and people from ethnic minorities are chosen as Tory parliamentary candidates.
Bernard Jenkin, who was in charge of the party's A-list, returned to the back benches after turning down a junior post outside the Shadow Cabinet in a reshuffle that the Tory leader used to bring in fresh blood. He promoted eight new MPs elected last year to his frontbench team.
Tory officials insisted Mr Jenkin's departure had nothing to do with him telling an Asian man he would be "shocked" if he were chosen above a middle-class white male to fight a seat in Essex.
Ali Miraj, who duly failed to be selected in Witham at the weekend, said yesterday that the Tories still had "a mountain to climb" despite Mr Cameron's drive to change his party's attitude to candidate selection. "What is gradually becoming clear, is not that the peak may never be assailable, but that some, including myself, may out of frustration, opt to abandon the ascent itself," he said.
Tory sources said Mr Jenkin had done a "tremendous job" by making the A-list system a success, with 35 per cent of selected candidates women and 10 per cent from ethnic minorities. But they added that the Tory leader wanted someone else to "take it forward".
In a sign that Mr Cameron is determined to make further progress on changing the face of the party, he replaced Mr Jenkin as deputy chairman in charge of candidates and brought in John Maples, a long-standing moderniser and former Treasury minister.
Other Conservative spokesmen who were returned to the back benches were Malcolm Moss, Mark Field, Tim Boswell and Andrew Turner.
The members of the 2005 intake who have won promotion to the frontbench team are Anne Milton, who will speak on tourism; Greg Clark (charities and voluntary sector); Shailesh Vara (shadow deputy Commons leader); James Brokenshire (home affairs); Ed Vaizey (arts); David Jones (Wales) and Mark Lancaster and Robert Goodwill (whips).
In another change, Maria Miller became shadow minister for family welfare, Henry Bellingham was appointed shadow minister for constitutional affairs, Andrew Selous was made shadow work and pensions minister and Anne McIntosh became shadow minister for education.