Blue candidates show their true colours

In the first in a series of articles, Andrew Grice asks whether the Tories' first-time candidates live up to their leader's billing

When David Cameron is asked how he has changed the Conservative Party, he points to the new breed of parliamentary candidates whom he hopes will join the Class of 2010.

The face of the party is certainly changing. Tory officials calculate that if Mr Cameron won an overall majority of one, the number of women Tory MPs would rise from 18 to about 60 and the number of black or Asian members from two to between 12 and 15. Gay Tories are confident their ranks will grow from three to about 17.

Yet Mr Cameron has had to work hard to achieve this part of his modernisation project and it has run into opposition from grassroots traditionalists. The Tory high command intervened to save two women candidates under threat from local rebellions – Elizabeth Truss, who came under pressure from the "Turnip Taliban" in South-West Norfolk after it emerged she had had an affair with a Tory MP, and Joanne Cash, who quit after a personal feud in Westminster North and was then reinstalled.

Yesterday a third row erupted over the selection of a candidate favoured by the Cameroons. There were claims that 100 party members had signed a petition opposing the choice of Sam Gyimah, a 33-year-old black entrepreneur, in Surrey East. Tory officials admit there are "rumblings" about his business interests but say no petition has been received and that time has now run out for a change of candidate. "He is an excellent candidate and will be fighting the seat," said a Conservative spokesman.

Mr Gyimah is just the sort of candidate that Tory HQ is keen to promote in glossy magazines – there have even been fashion shoots – to symbolise the party's makeover. Yet the political views of many of the Tories' standard-bearers at next month's election may be rather more traditionalist than the Cameroons would have us believe.

Some Tory insiders admit privately that the candidates as a whole are "Thatcher's children" rather than a fresh-faced crop of modernisers who have long since been weaned off the pure milk of Thatcherism. And surveys suggest that Cameron could face tension over issues such as Europe, the environment and tax cuts.

Mr Cameron has made clear that he does not want to "pick a fight" with the European Union. He angered Tory Eurosceptics by abandoning the party's pledge to hold a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon once it had been ratified by all 27 EU nations. A poll of 101 Tory candidates by ComRes for the New Statesman magazine suggested that they would rather like to pick a fight with the EU. Some 72 per cent agreed with the statement that "as a matter of priority, Britain needs a fundamental renegotiation of its relationship with the EU," while 23 per cent disagreed. "Renegotiation" is the mantra of hardline Eurosceptics, some of whom hope it would lead to the exit door since the rest of Europe is highly unlikely to grant Britain any special favours.

Europe would be a potentially toxic issue for a Cameron government since the "events" that arise would not be under its control but driven by Brussels. Although the Tories are not as divided on Europe as they were during the Thatcher and Major administrations, passions still run high and the candidates' views suggest it could return to haunt the party leadership.

Mr Cameron successfully used the environment to show the voters he was changing his party after becoming its leader in 2005. Yet his enthusiasm is not shared by his MPs and candidates. Some Tory insiders believe this issue will be the party's "new Europe".

Those sceptical about man-made climate change say their numbers have swelled since data manipulation allegations engulfed the University of East Anglia. According to ComRes, 28 per cent of Tory candidates believe the next government will need to legislate to make peoples' behaviour "greener", while 59 per cent do not.

The candidates appear to have Thatcherite instincts on the economy. Some 94 per cent believe that the deficit in the public finances should be tackled more by cutting spending than raising taxes, while only 2 per cent disagree. Although that is in line with the party's official policy, the shadow Chancellor George Osborne wants to use tax rises to bridge 20 per cent of the gap and spending cuts to meet 80 per cent of it. So some tax increases could meet resistance.

Similarly, Tory candidates want early action on cutting inheritance tax, even though the party's pledge to raise the threshold to £1m would not be introduced until the later stages of the next parliament. Fifty-nine per cent of candidates want it increased as a matter of priority; 34 per cent do not.

However, the candidates appear more socially liberal than their counterparts during the Thatcher era, perhaps reflecting the sea change in society as a whole as well as the Cameroons' attempts to ensure the party is not out of touch with modern Britain. Three-quarters (74 per cent) say the tax system should treat same-sex couples in a civil partnership in exactly the same way as it treats heterosexual married couples, while only one in five (21 per cent) disagrees.

One in five (20 per cent) of Tory candidates backs the return of the death penalty for murder but 75 per cent oppose the idea.

So there could be backbench trouble ahead for Mr Cameron, particularly if he enjoys only a small majority. First, however, he has an election to win.

'I don't believe in abortion': The Conservatives' next generation

Stephen Parkinson

Newcastle upon Tyne North

From Tyneside, a former President of the Cambridge Union and director of research at Centre for Policy Studies think-tank founded by Margaret Thatcher. Opposes gay adoptions. Has defended "benefits" of Section 28 law banning homosexual propaganda in local authorities. Against civil partnerships.

He says: "Marriage is, quite blatantly, a heterosexual institution. Why are gay men and women trying to assimilate themselves into straight society?"

Richard Cook

East Renfrewshire

A company director of his recyling business. Favours total abolition of inheritance tax. He is hoping to oust Scotland Secretary Jim Murphy, who steered the Lisbon Treaty legislation through the Commons as Europe Minister. He's confident voters share his scepticism rather than Mr Murphy's "desire for ever closer integration".

He says: "I am British first and foremost and believe in sovereignty of our Westminster UK Parliament and will always vote to ensure this is maintained and enhanced."

Kevin Davis

Yeovil

Social entrepreneur. Chief executive of national disability charity. Favours sweeping tax cuts and abolition of Gordon Brown's flagship tax credits, which is not official Tory policy.

He says: "I believe in lower and simpler tax – it's too high and too complicated. Council tax, national insurance, income tax, and the raid on pension [funds] are all areas for urgent review."

Gordon Henderson

Sittingbourne and Sheppey

A former Woolworths manager, now operations manager of an alcoholic gifts firm. He proudly describes himself as the only prospective Tory candidate to sign up to "Better Off Out", which campaigns for Britain's withdrawal from the EU. If elected, has promised to press for a referendum on whether Britain should remain a member.

Ben Jeffreys

Cheadle

A supply teacher and member of the Tories' policy group on education. Describes himself as "a progressive Conservative: a Cameroon". Favours reduction in 24-week limit for abortions.

He says: "I don't believe in abortion...I am anti-abortion...I would reduce it as low as possible [10 weeks]. I teach children, I don't want to be murdering them."

Diana Coad

Slough

Former couture model, born in London's East End and known for her forthright manner. Describes herself as "a known Eurosceptic" who has backed a referendum on the issue. As a councillor, she was proud to force through a resolution allowing people to fly the Cross of St George on St George's Day.

She says: "My Country will always come first and you only have to ask Dan Hannan [the hardline Tory MEP]...about my views."

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